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Wild Hog coming, racers and sponsors needed

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By Jenna McKenna

Whatever the economy, some needs never go away.

The 31st Annual Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak race is mere weeks away, but organizers - Bronson's AmVets Post 88 - say they are far behind needed numbers of both racers and sponsors.

They don't mind so much for the race and themselves, but Levy County's venerable river adventure race benefits Levy Association for Retarded Citizens. Budget cuts and a falling economy have LARC headed for hard times, according to Executive Director Betty Walker.

Not that they've ever been easy.

Walker said the state of Florida reports that as of Sept. 2007, 15,648 people are on a waiting list for services by Florida's ARC organizations, 255 of them for at least five years.

The waiting list is currently frozen, she said, and as older ARC clients age and die, their places are not being filled by younger handicapped people in need of services.

"They're not taking anybody off the list," Walker said. "A lot of our people are old - they've been coming here as long as I've been here. But the waiting list is frozen. That makes me plumb sick, to think of all those people waiting at home, doing nothing."

Besides all the people she can't serve, Walker still has to worry about those she can. Last year's fundraisers, including the biggest-earning Wild Hog race in years, and the over-the-top success of Ride to Provide, helped LARC put a roof on its main building.

"These fund-raisers help a lot," Walker said. "I can pay a bill sometimes."

The Levy County Commission helped, too.

"If it wasn't for them, we'd be in real trouble," she said.

But there are always more bills.

Last year's Wild Hog had more than 40 sponsors and more than 50 boats participating. After all the money was counted, AmVets were able to give LARC a check for $6,725. In this, their third year organizing the race, AmVets say they had hoped to improve that number quite a bit. If current numbers hold - four boats, 22 sponsors, according to organzier Margie McGarva - they won't even be able to equal it.

"This is the best of good causes," said organizer Sandy Russell. "This is for people whose needs can't be put aside."

The 31st running of the Wild Hog race will begin, as always, at the Waccasassa River bridge on State Road 24, just east of U.S. 19 in Otter Creek, and racers will go over, under, down and through the complicated little blackwater branch about eight miles, to the takeout point on U.S. 19, next to the White fruit stand.

Depending on the water, there will be more or fewer portages, snags, obstacles and duels in tight corners. One thing there probably won't be too many of is alligators. Organizers set the race early enough in the spring that the cranky beasts shouldn't be out looking for dates - or fights - just yet.

Organizers Clyde McGarva and Paul Norfolk say they have a full slate of prizes, food and entertainment to refresh racers, as well as those just looking for a fun day.

"We'll have bands all day," Norfold said, with a lineup including last year's crowd-pleaser David Woods, as well as a performance by Touch of Class karaoke and area band Black Dog Down.

There will also be delicious pulled-pork barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn-on-the-cob and french fries, and every racer will get a meal ticket with their registration. To entice revelers, there will be 50-50 and raffles, with six big prizes, including a week at a Kissimmee resort, and 40-50 small prizes.

The 31st Annual Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak Race will be on Saturday, April 26 at the Waccasassa River Bridge on FL 24, two miles east of U.S. 19. For more information, to register for the race or to be a sponsor, visit http://wildhog.wetpaint.com or call 352-486-2535.

AmVets will host a Wild Hog kickoff celebration on Saturday, April 12 from noon to 5 p.m. with a car show, raffles and chili cookoff, at the site of the new AmVets post, adjacent to the Bronson Motor Speedway on SR 24 east of Bronson.