Fifteen New Haven residents enjoyed a few extra hours in bed on Sunday morning, though they spent that time racing down Chapel Street to win the title of “Fastest Bed in Town” at the Greater New Haven Bed Race, a city tradition revived last year.
The race debuted in the late 1970s as a fundraiser for the New Haven Register’s Fresh Air Fund, which sends underprivileged children to summer camp. In its heyday, it enrolled as many as 60 or 70 teams, Bed Race Chairman Patrick Smith said. The race became dormant in 1990, which many race organizers said was due to financial difficulties. But after its 25-year hiatus, the race grew from last year’s contingent by seven participating teams. Smith was responsible for reviving the race last year and attracting a crowd of over 100 people this year to benefit the Associated Irish Societies, which sponsors New Haven’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and Camp Rising Sun — an organization that provides recreational services to children diagnosed with cancer. In addition to Camp Rising Sun and New Haven’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, the event was sponsored by the New Haven-based McManus law firm.
At 10:30 a.m., 15 teams representing local families and businesses in New Haven lined up on the New Haven Green in a “parade” before moving to the starting line, which was set at the intersection of Church and Court Streets. Each team, which consisted of four runners pushing the bed and one passenger lying on top, raced one-to-one in a lengthy round of preliminary heats. The highest scoring teams then faced off in a championship race.
The New Haven Fire Department was well-represented at the event. After success in many preliminary heats, Engine Company Nine won first place, defeating its comrades in Engine Company Eight with a lead of just two meters.
“The event brings us all together,” said Marcos Demelo, a New Haven firefighter and a member of the Engine Company Eight bed team, which placed second. “The fire department [and] the police department [are] here. Our family is here; we have the community here. It was a great race … I think it grows the community and it brings us together.”
All beds were ornamented and wore the logos of participating stores and organizations. One entry run by New Haven’s Citizens Television Inc. sported bed posts painted bright red, sheets with zebra print and a runner dressed as Santa Claus. Another runner, propelling a makeshift bed adorned with bamboo hangings and monkey sheets, ran down Church Street dressed as a banana. A bed representing the Camp Rising Sun foundation was painted bright blue and bedazzled with glitter and the words, “Until there’s a cure, there’s a camp.”
While the event bred an environment of friendly competition, it also aimed to benefit charities that are active within New Haven.
Camp Rising Sun, a nonprofit organization based in Branford, will receive a sum of the money raised through the race. Each of the 15 teams paid a $300 entry fee and local companies could sponsor teams in exchange for their logos to appear on the beds.
“This is an amazing contribution that [the Bed Race will] be giving us,” Melissa Pandolfi, a volunteer outreach coordinator from the Camp Rising Sun charity, said. “[The funds raised] will definitely help camp keep going, because it’s a nonprofit organization and we need those funds to not say ‘no’ to a kid that has cancer and wants to come to camp.”
Last August, the charity offered roughly 120 children from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island one week of sleep-away camp. The camp rents a YMCA facility in Colebrook and relies on donations to run every year.
Smith and his colleagues said they plan on continuing the tradition next year and encourage anyone to participate.
This year’s session of Camp Rising Sun ran from Aug. 21 to Aug. 26.