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International Rabbit Derby continues to pay it forward

By Rick Giermata, Hamburg

Rabbit hunting might be small game, but it’s a big deal when it comes to houndsmen helping others as they have for more than a decade.

The 13th annual Western New York International Rabbit Derby was Jan. 25, with the conclusion at the Southtowns Walleye Association clubhouse in Hamburg. The weigh-in and fundraising event drew a crowd of nearly 600 people – a record.

Everyone came together as sportsmen and sportswomen to honor 13-year-old Gracie King and her family from North Tonawanda. Last year, Gracie was diagnosed with a rare form of glioblastoma tumor on her spine and has undergone monthly chemotherapy and multiple rounds of radiation.

The event was designed to help someone with cancer, a charity or a program in need of funding.

Rabbit hunters from Canada, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio competed for the Frank Privitere Golden Rabbit Cup. Privitere, a retired Buffalo schoolteacher from West Seneca, died from cancer 13 years ago and was the inspiration for the start of the derby.

When the scales closed, a 3.97-pound rabbit brought the championship to the Ramrods team from Grand Island, led by co-captains Tim Conn and Rob Christopher. Second place was Team G Dogs from Eden, led by the Charles Privitera family. (The G Dogs also weighed in a record 50 rabbits, taking home the Biggest Game Bag award.) Third place went to the Polish Rifles, led by Vinny Costello from Boston, N.Y. The Path Finder Award went to Robert Ford, who traveled from State College, Pa., to enter the hunt.

So many people donated their time, baskets, money, food and love to make this the best and biggest Derby to date. The Jay McDonnell Trio entertained the crowd for six hours.

Gracie's mom and dad (Richard and Jessica King) were given the Ginny Fagard Appreciation award for their military service to our country and community. They serve in the 107th Air National Guard out of Niagara Falls. Ginny was the first derby child we lost due to illness and it is presented by her parents, Tom and Michele Lloyd.

Other appreciation awards were given to former Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon for her 10 years serving the district, and the Southtowns Walleye Association of Western New York for its efforts to help children and veterans of our community.

I’ve loved being a houndsman since I was 10 years old. I have sacrificed a lot for my dogs and my sport. It’s a passion and a way of life for me. Being able to bring so many people together through the sport I love to help others in their time of need is a blessing to me. My heart is filled with pride, love and happiness knowing that for one special day a year, everyone becomes a rabbit runner.

Hunters are some of the finest people I know and each January we get to show up and make a difference in the lives of others.

Every derby, when I see our honoree smile and leave cancer behind for a night, it validates the months of hard work and gives me the reason to continue.

The hounds put cancer on the run for another year. And we will be back to do it again next January.

Giermata is the founder of the Western New York International Rabbit Derby.

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