News Article Details

A niece's smile brought Super Kids race to Sharpsville

The Herald - 6/28/2018

June 28--SHARPSVILLE -- Twenty-three-year-old Kayli Dean is the reason the Super Kids Soap Box Derby has been in Mercer County for 11 years.

She was 3 1/2 when she had a stroke, leaving the left side of her body with cerebral palsy.

Her aunt, Pam Dorfi, got Dean involved in the soap box race, which was held in New Castle at the time. Dean was 8 years old.

"The smile on her face -- she looked at me and said 'Aunt Pam, I did it, I did it," Dorfi said.

Dorfi was sold. She brought the race to Mercer County 11 years ago and served as director for 10. This year, she served as treasurer and secretary, but is still just as passionate about giving children with special needs "a day of their own." The Super Kids Soap Box Derby has races all over the world.

In Mercer County's small corner of the world, Sharpsville will host the race 11 a.m. Saturday with a parade at 9:30 a.m. The parade will go through Main Street to Pierce Avenue, which is where the children will race down the street in sets of two. This year, there are 34 children, several of whom are first-timers.

The soap box cars, which are made by a carpenter's union in Mercer County, are bought and sponsored by local businesses. In the growing fleet of 18 cars, there is a police car, fire truck, tow truck and "love bug" -- just to name a few. Each racer gets two to four rides, and the top three winners earn a fully paid trip with their families to Akron, Ohio, for the National Super Kids Classic derby race.

Dean returns for the soap box derby in Sharpsville almost every year, but don't expect to recognize her. She is the derby's mascot, WooHoo Willy, a doughy-looking boy with blue glasses and a red-brimmed ball cap. Just beneath her costume is Dean's recognizable curly hair and bright smile.

Although Dean doesn't remember her first race, seeing the children at the derby helps her to experience it all over again.

"They're really excited about it. I see now how exciting it was," Dean said. "...they really enjoy it, which is amazing to see."

When Dean was a kid, she wasn't sure if she would ever be able to drive a car, so she enjoyed zooming down the road in her soap box. The opportunity gave her the feeling of being able to control what was going on around her, she said. Her hand has a "mind of its own," she said, and has learned to compensate for it.

As a student teacher for a second-grade class, her students noticed that she had difficulty moving the left side of her body. She didn't know how to explain cerebral palsy to them, so she told them to wiggle their ears without moving their hands. With the exception of one boy, they couldn't do it.

In the same way that their brains couldn't make their ears wiggle, her brain couldn't make her arm move, Dean told her students.

Dean graduated from Youngstown State University in May and wants to be a teacher.

Derby co-director Anna McConnell said that the race is all about seeing the joy and smiles on the children's faces. Beth Kovach is the other co-director.

McConnell's son, Landon, is 11 and participated in the derby for three years but is sitting this one out.

He won a trip to Akron for the national race three years in a row, and told his parents that he wanted to give others the same opportunity.

Dean also went to Akron when she was 8, and this she remembers clearly.

"It was really exciting to be center stage and in front of everyone," she said of the experience.

She returns to national race every year to support the Super Kids as WooHoo Willy. Underneath her mascot costume is the reason the soap box derby continues to grow in Mercer County.

Follow Natalie Eastwood on Facebook and Twitter @natalie_herald. Email her at neastwoo@gmail.com.

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(c)2018 The Herald (Sharon,Pa)

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