‘This event touches countless people in so many different and positive ways’

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Merritt DeOrnellas receives the first-place trophy in her Super Kids division from Optimist Club president Aiden McDonnell during Friday's competition at the Quincy Derby. At right is Nicholas Bjornson. | Samantha Carnean

QUINCY — Sure, there were the expected winners and accompanying champions.

But on this sun-splashed Friday morning and afternoon on the 18th Street Hill that borders Bob Mays Park there was a little something extra, too.

A message was delivered by two of the parents who have been touched over the years by what the Super Kids division of the Quincy Derby has provided for their child and the community as a whole. 

The Super Kids are the youngsters who compete in specially designed cars. They are the children who are challenged, either intellectually or physically (or, in some cases, both) — but the common denominator possessed by all during Friday’s competition was oh-so obvious.

It was their smiles, coupled with the sheer enjoyment of going downhill in their own personal hot rod with the wind in their face and not a care in the world. 

Tony and Dana Cornett, whose son, Michael, was inducted into the Super Kids Hall of Fame between sessions Friday, addressed the turnout. Tony admitted the words he prepared would be tough to deliver. There were many tears, he said, trying to organize the thoughts he felt in his heart that he and his family wanted to share.

There were few dry eyes by the time the Cornetts’ message had ended.

“Our entire family wanted to share our appreciation for all that has been done for children with disabilities and special needs with this event,” Cornett said. “Words cannot express what happiness and joy has been brought to countless drivers, buddy drivers (those who assist the Super Kids) and the parents and guardians of these kids. This event is so much more than just a race. The race itself gives these special drivers an experience they will always remember and what many look forward to each year. 

“The race also teaches so much to the buddy drivers. In 2017 (when Michael won a championship), he was lucky enough to be paired with A.J. Keane for his victory run. Michael was uneasy a couple of times to even get into the car, but A.J. took the time get Michael comfortable enough each time they raced. This interaction with Michael had a profound effect on A.J., too. This event touches countless people in so many different and positive ways. We look forward to watching this event grow in the years to come, and we will be at the races each year to support and cheer on the drivers.”

On the track, Friday’s four champions were Zane Ham, Ryker Sanderson, Merritt DeOrnellas and Carter McVay. They emerged from a roster of 103 Super Kids spread across the four divisions. That total represented the second-highest Super Kids total since they became a part of the derby weekend in 2015. The Super Kids’ record remains 109 in 2019.

Ham won his division with a 6-1 record, defeating Jacob Ohnemus (9-2) in the double-elimination finals. Jay Turner (4-2) was third. Ham was representing Judevine Autism Support Services in Hannibal and Louisiana, Mo. Judevine representatives Carolyn Harrison and Morgan Dowell were ecstatic over Ham’s performance.

“This kind of day was good for everyone,” Harrison said.

“Everyone came together … it was exciting,” said Dowell, noting how thrilled all nine Judevine students who participated were.

Sanderson, representing the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in Jacksonville, captured his bracket championship with a 5-0 record. Paige Cichon (4-1) and Maria Bagry (3-1) were others on the podium.

“When I was racing down the hill (in the championship race), I was thinking how cool it would be to win,” Sanderson said. “This was the first time I’ve done something like this in about eight years. It was fun.”

DeOrnellas finished 4-0 in her division, turning back runner-up Rico Oelker (3-1) and third-place Nicholas Bjornson (3-1). They were all representing Hope School in Springfield, which specializes in autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities.

McVay (5-1) held off Lucy Reyolds (4-2) and Ryan Collins (3-2) in their bracket.

“Carter had really been looking forward to this. We’re so very proud of him,” said Jon McVay, father of Carter.

Notes

  • Ella Cain, one of four 2019 Super Kids champions, helped open Friday’s festivities by singing the National Anthem.
  • The Super Kids have been a part of Quincy Derby weekend for 10 years, but there has yet to be a two-time champion emerge during that decade.
  • Matt Schmidt is again serving as derby announcer. Schmidt is a member of the Quincy Optimist Club, which oversees both the Super Kids and the traditional series (Super Stock, Stock and Master Elite) of the derby.
  • Alaina Obert went 1-2 in her Super Kids division Friday and remains the event’s all-time victory leader. She has posted a 25-16 mark in her career. 
  • Action resumes Saturday at about 8:30 a.m. with 20th running of the Quincy Derby, featuring the Super Stock, Stock and Masters Elite divisions. There will be 134 racers in action Saturday, pushing the weekend total to 237, an event record.
  • Three former champions are in Saturday’s Super Stock and Stock lineups. Kalli Mullen is the defending Super Stock winner, Riley Delgado won the 2022 Super Stock big iron and Tanner Wisely collected the 2022 Stock trophy.
  • Seventy Super Stock cars will take the green flag, a record for either of the derby’s two premier divisions (Super Stock and Stock).
  • The Quincy Derby Hall of Fame induction will take place during Saturday’s activities. Jordyn Liesen will be this year’s inductee. She won the 2021 Masters Elite and 2017 Super Stock crowns.
  • The girls hold a 22-20 advantage in titles won in the Super Stock, Stock and Masters Elite divisions, including seven of the last nine since 2021.

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