By Jill Keppeler
As their 20th year as the organizers of the Kids Fishing Derby in Tonawanda approaches, John and Kate White still have the same goal they did back when it all started.
It's all about getting kids outside.
"The whole community gets involved with it," John White said. "Get them away from the computer and TV and off the streets and have fun. It's our way of reintroducing them to the great outdoors.
"All and all, it's just a good day. We have to teach the kids respect for the outdoors, respect for the environment. And it's a heck of a pastime."
The annual event will mark its 20th anniversary Saturday at the Niawanda Park bandshell in the City of Tonawanda. Children from throughout the area, including the Tonawandas, Niagara, Wheatfield and beyond, are expected for the derby, which includes giveaways, contests, refreshments, face painting ... and, of course, fishing.
Last year, about 500 children took part, White said. This year, he expects 700.
"It's going to be a real festival this year, is what it's going to be," he said.
Registration will begin at 8 a.m., with the derby taking place from 9 a.m. to noon.
Derby age groups are ages 7 and younger; 8-10-year-olds; 11-13-year-olds; and 14-16-year-olds. Those age 16 must have a fishing license; children younger than 10 must be accompanied by an adult.
White said that the first 200 kids registered will receive grab bags with fishing gear. Altogether, there are more than $8,000 in prizes and giveaways.
The anniversary brings a first for the event: Thanks to sponsorship by Industrial Tool Sharpening of North Tonawanda, the Niagara Rivers Anglers Association is bringing a trout pond stocked with 150 12- to 14-inch trout that kids can catch and release.
Gander Mountain and Big Catch Bait have donated worms, White said. Other donors and sponsors include Niagara Outdoors, Cabela's, the Elks Lodge, the Exchange Club of the Tonawandas and White's Turf Crew.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard will take part with educational activities. A local Boy Scout troop will provide refreshments.
All in all, it's far beyond what the Whites could have dreamed when the derby started back in the 1990s.
"There are a lot of fun adventures, things going on," Kate White said. "We're really excited. The kids will have a blast."