Blue Ridge Soap Box Derby

Richard Jones points out features on a specialized car he made for last year’s Super Kids soap box derby class in Waynesboro. The cars give children with special needs a chance to compete in the derby with accessible controls and space for a co-pilot to assist them during the race.

WAYNESBORO — A division for children with special needs will return to the Blue Ridge Soap Box Derby in Waynesboro for a second year, but more children are needed to sign up.

“Super Kids is awesome, and it lets us all know what we take for granted,” said Joe Kaminski, president of the Blue Ridge Soap Box Derby.

While only three Super Kids participated last year, Kaminski said he knew the division would be offered again for this year’s race, although only one child is signed up so far for the June 15 race.

As last year’s Super Kids’ winner, 8-year-old Richard Heffner, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a walker, came to the finish line, Kaminski saw him waving his arms in the air. Kaminski said that as Richard got out of his car, “for a split second he forgot, it seemed, that his legs didn’t work.” Richard stood up, stepped out of the car and fell to the ground.

Richard’s excitement about winning, Kaminski said, “gave us a renewed energy to keep this going.”

Kaminski said that children with special needs face challenges every day. Other children face temporary challenges, and it is important to raise awareness about that distinction, he said. He wants to continue the Super Kids division “to challenge those without a disability to live life to the fullest.”

He said it would do the Waynesboro community good to see the Super Kids race each year in the soap box derby. Also, not a lot of local activities for children with special needs exist.

The Waynesboro Super Kids division does not have an age limit for competition.

Super Kids ride alongside someone else who assists with the car’s operation.

The Blue Ridge Soap Box Derby began in Staunton in the late 1940s, according to Kaminski. In the 1960s, the derby moved near Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro. From 1962 to 1972, the race was held on 11th Street.

After a hiatus, Kaminski said the derby returned in 1994 and ever since has celebrated winners who go on to the national competition in Akron, Ohio.

The Super Kids races in Waynesboro are considered unofficial races until at least 12 children participate.

“It’s been our goal to get more families, more spectators watching these races downtown,” Kaminski said about starting Super Kids last year.

Kaminski added that while kids racing in the regular soap box derby race must win in order to qualify to race at the national level in Akron, parents of Super Kids can, for a fee, take their children to Akron to serve as ambassadors in the National Super Kids Classic. Local businesses can pay for an ambassador to race in Akron.

Rachel Potter, dean of the College of Education at Mary Baldwin University, began her career as a special-education teacher and now teaches future special-education teachers. She also teaches courses at MBU on applied behavior analysis.

Potter’s son, Eric, 14, is autistic, and is signed up to participate in this year’s Super Kids, “and he’s super excited.”

“This is an opportunity to do something that taps into his excitement,” she said. “He enjoys a lot of things that are physically exciting.”

Potter said Super Kids will be Eric’s first time in a derby car.

“So this is a new adventure, and Eric likes to try things that are new,” she said.

Eric has been so excited, she said, that he has been looking up derby cars on YouTube and asking a lot of questions about what will happen on June 15.

Eric also enjoys being the center of attention, and Super Kids will give him that opportunity.

Potter, who lives in Fishersville, said her son “is extremely verbal, but not necessarily on topic.” He struggles with social interactions and picking up on social cues, so initiating and maintaining friendships is difficult for him.

Potter said Super Kids is appealing to her because of the social opportunities for her son.

Despite academic challenges, Eric loves school, builds great relationships with his teachers and excels at band, Potter said.

“He looks forward to going to school every morning despite academic struggles, and the social struggle,” she said.

Eric also enjoys cheering for others, his mother said, and he would like to see more children sign up for Super Kids this year.

“He gets a lot of joy and excitement for cheering for others,” Potter said.

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