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24-HOUR RELAY GEARS UP FOR THE LAST TIME

Dubbed the "Drug-free Celebration of Community and Youth," the Hamburg 24-hour Relay Challenge draws hundreds each year.

The festive event has raised close to $100,000 to benefit an array of Hamburg youth programs and activities.

This weekend will be the 10th and last annual fund-raising event.

Hamburg was the first municipality in the state to implement the national 24-hour Relay Challenge program, which encourages community and relationship building by including a cross-section of the community -- from elected officials to students -- in planning and running the event.

Organizers are tossing around ideas to develop an all-day fund-raiser to replace the 24-hour challenge because it has become too time-consuming for young people who have tight schedules, they said.

"For some of us, it will be a time of mixed emotions," said Tamara Franz, an organizer who worked on the first relay and was director for eight years. "It's been a great ride; the community has been behind us 100 percent."

That will be evident Saturday and Sunday when more than 300 people will hit Hamburg High School's all-weather track. Thirty-five 10-member teams, consisting mostly of students, will camp out around the track. They will take turns walking or running a mile at a time.

The opening ceremony will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and a closing ceremony will follow the conclusion of the relay at 9 a.m. Sunday.

Each team is required to pay $500, collected through pledges. Spectator admission is $1. Klemat Plumbing and Heating is the primary sponsor of the event.

The 24 hours will be packed with entertainment and activities -- from various pickup games to live local bands to a "24-hour Relay Idol," modeled after the television series "American Idol."

Organizers are expecting about 400 people to attend and to raise $10,000 this year.

"It's going to be 24 hours of fun," said Gary Dilsworth, co-director of the event.

Over the years, the Hamburg Youth Foundation, which was developed to award the money raised from the relay, has give grants to youth programs and organizations such as Peer Listening, Project YES and scouting organizations. School recreation, mentoring and tutoring programs also have benefited from the fund-raiser.

In addition, Dilsworth, who has been with the event for eight years, said the fund-raiser teaches students leadership skills and lays a foundation by building relations for community projects.

"It's really the coming together of a community," he said.

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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