Photos Courtesy Of Fred VanFossen
Do you ever dream of creating the one perfect event that generates revenue, raises awareness for your organization, creates excitement for the staff members who work on it, and most importantly, is so popular it sells out every year? That dream became a reality for the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department in Indiana with the Amazing Race.
Now in its 7 th year, the success of the race is so widespread that organizer Patti Davis receives monthly calls from all over the country, and even as far away as Australia, inquiring about the logistics of the race!
“The idea came from a fellow employee,” Davis says. “She convinced me to try it, although I’d never even watched the show. I still don’t.” Two local radio deejays volunteered to help with the planning. “These guys were such Amazing Race gurus they’d considered trying out for the network show.” Besides sponsoring and helping with the challenges, the deejays promoted the event on the radio and emceed during registration and the after-party. Their banter motivated the 200 competitors so much that they literally broke the door hinges as they burst through to start the race!
As with any new program, the first year was the most difficult. From past experience, Davis knew that success depended upon a core group of reliable volunteers—60 to 70 in this case. Each challenge needs three to four monitors:
- One person to check in the team (giving a clue and instructions)
- One or two people to serve as timers
- One person to make sure the team follows instructions.
Davis begins securing volunteers 30 days in advance of the event, utilizing email, a news release, social media, and volunteer-match programs. After the first race was held, word spread about how much fun it was for the volunteers, and how many perks they received, so it became easier to find help. Now, about 75 percent of the volunteers return each year. The race has become a tradition for many families, and they’re starting to bring along extra family and friends to assist as well.
Think Like A Cheater
Creating and testing crazy challenges sounds like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? How about wheelchair races, applying lipstick while blindfolded, eating worms, drinking canola oil mixed with Tabasco, building popsicle-stick boats, blowing Ping-Pong balls from cup to cup, being fed through a baby bottle, and bobbing for Tootsie Rolls in a portable “toilet” filled with lemonade? The most difficult part is trying to
think like a cheater. Since there are extremely nice prizes to be won, competitors are always trying to find a way to skip a step. Davis has “guinea pigs” attempt all of the challenges 2 weeks prior to the event. She even asks a husband-and-wife team, notorious for thinking out of the box, to study each challenge to ensure all of the instructions are clear and can’t be manipulated. For instance, one year each team had to purchase a list of items at a store; while there, the four members of the team had to keep at least one hand on the grocery cart. The youngest team member couldn’t keep up, so he climbed in the cart, and away they went!
Logistics And Sponsorships
The race is held twice a year on a Saturday for 6 hours. In the fall, the team of four has to be over 18 years old. In the spring, one of four team members has to be over 50 years old, and one has to be 8 to 12 years old. Davis doesn’t believe in repeating challenges, likes to have one water challenge, and always has a challenge similar to one on the television show. There are 10 to 14 challenges for the all-adult race, which is complex and time-consuming, and 14 to 17 challenges for the adult-and-child race, which is easier and takes less time to complete. That adds up to a lot of new challenges over 7 years! Davis has learned to encourage sponsors to create their own challenges, and to locate them at their facility. They really embrace this request. After all, creating challenges is a great way for the sponsor’s staff to become involved, and having teams come to the site certainly promotes the business. Restaurants, assisted-living centers, and hotels make up the majority of challenge sponsors. Teams have raced through pools at hotels, played “hum that tune” with nursing-home residents, and made pizza and burritos at area restaurants. These challenge sponsors also donate gift certificates and prizes for the goody bags that all volunteers and participants receive, and the sponsors often provide food for the after-party.
The fee to compete is $60 per team, which more than covers the cost of T-shirts. Volunteers are provided with free shirts. Supplies are needed for challenges, but not many, because staff members and volunteers are always thinking of ways to utilize random donations and event leftovers throughout the year—like the terrible-tasting candy snowflakes used in a stacking challenge. And one year, cases of donated cereal were used for a Tony the Tiger challenge. It takes Davis an entire year to procure enough donations to cover the $5,000 in prizes, which include day- and weekend-trip packages for the top-three teams, goody bags, and door prizes. Besides receiving a bag filled with a gas card, free entertainment passes, and restaurant freebies, volunteers and competitors are entered in door-prize drawings for gift cards and other cool treasures. Volunteers are provided a snack bag to tide them over until the after-party meal, and an extra chance for a door prize the night before the event during a short training session. It’s a sure-fire way to ensure good attendance—give away presents and food!
One of the most time-saving devices Davis has utilized is a donation calendar, much like the one a grant writer uses. Over the years, she’s gathered information about who donates what and when. “As long as you follow the guidelines specific to each business, there’s a lot of free money and merchandise out there,” Davis says. “And if you only need one more thing to make the trip perfect, like a hotel stay or a zoo pass to a city, give that vendor a call and let them know what everyone else has donated. You’ll be surprised at how well that works.” This past spring, the first-place team won a Cincinnati package, which included four tickets to an amusement park, plus parking, gas cards, an overnight hotel stay, food certificates, four tickets to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game, and zoo tickets. The goal is for the winners to enjoy their trip without having to spend anything if they don’t want to. The second-place team won an Indianapolis package with tickets to the children’s museum and the symphony, a hotel room, downtown bike rentals, and a family comedy club.
“Did we kick ourselves that first time, when the event filled up the first day and we had to get down to business? Maybe a little,” says Davis. “We were overwhelmed with how much work it would be. But now it’s much easier. We’ve got it down to a science.”
Patti Davis is the preschool/youth supervisor at the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department Community Center. For more information about the Amazing Race, reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Natalie Eggeman is the Public Information Officer for the city of Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department. Reach her at email@example.com .