Armadillos dig up bucks for children’s hospitals|[03/03/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2008

CARY — The aroma of a 250-pound roasting hog commingled with that of 29 corralled and caged armadillos Saturday afternoon at the 2008 Redneck Adventures Armadillo Roundup. Nearly 90 people converged at Norris Outfitters in the small Delta town to watch five participating teams roll in with their catches from the previous night and then race the armored mammals — all in the name of raising money for charity.

Alton Norris, owner of Norris Outfitters, organized the first armadillo roundup last year, which raised $630 for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Between the $10 per-head entry fee for those competing and a raffle and auction of items donated by local businesses, Norris was hoping to raise $1,000 this year.

When all the numbers were tallied Saturday evening, this year’s roundup doubled his expectations.

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“We came up just shy of $2,000. There are a lot of kids that are going to get some much-needed help from all this, and that’s what it’s all about,” Norris said. “I’m just tickled. Everything went off great.”

Dave Moore, a friend of Norris’, traveled to Cary from Chandler, Okla., to participate. He had never tried to catch an armadillo. Although his team did not round up enough of the hard-shelled mammals to take first place, Moore was proud to say he caught his very first armadillo by hand Friday night — although it didn’t come easy.

“There was four of us — grown men, now — four of us standing in a ditch in the pouring rain trying to catch this armadillo, and all of us were diving everywhere. Somehow I finally came up with him,” explained Moore. “It was the most hilarious thing I have seen in my life. I was covered from head to toe in mud and was soaking wet, but I just couldn’t stop laughing. I have never seen anything like it.”

Moore said he will definitely be making a return trip to Cary next year.

Team Oak Ridge Taxidermy of Vicksburg brought in 18 armadillos to take first place and defend its title as reigning champ. Last year the team captured two armadillos to win the competition, but team member Troy Nugent said the addition of nighttime hunting in this year’s event made it more successful — and fun.

“That’s when they’re active,” Nugent said. “I went out this morning for a few hours and didn’t even see one.” Armadillos, more common in Texas, use their claws to burrow to find the grubs they eat and to make dens. They are hardy animals, and quick.

Five teams participated in the roundup, and had from dusk on Friday until 2 p.m. Saturday to corral as many as possible. Two teams were skunked, but not literally, while the three others brought in a total of 29 armadillos. A short, but steady rain on Friday night did not deter even his team’s youngest participants, Nugent said.

“When it started raining I told the kids they could stay in the truck if they wanted, but they were excited to go, so we kept on,” he said.

Ten-year-old Maverick Nugent, son of Troy and Jennifer, helped his father bring home the first place trophy in the roundup alongside his sisters Candace, 11, and Harley, 13. “I only caught one, but it was the biggest one. It was this big,” Maverick said proudly, stretching his arms out wide. “I would’ve had two, but one slipped away from me into a hole.”

The winning team also consisted of Clint Norris, Jimmy Pearson, William Pearson, J.R. Boyd and Delmond Henderson — a rodeo clown from Livingston, La., who dressed up in full costume alongside the event’s organizer to provide entertainment for the crowd on Saturday.

Following the raffle, auction and roasted hog lunch, those on hand were further treated to three rounds of armadillo racing, with spray paint applied to provide identification.

Clapping his hands and giving spirited shouts, Scott Hearn of Vicksburg encouraged his armadillo across the finish line first in the men’s division. The reigning armadillo racing champion from last year’s event sprawled out on the ground in exhaustion afterwards with his winning armadillo still in hands, panting, “I’m getting too old for this.” Hearn’s wife, Melissa, later won the women’s division race.

Seven-year-old Kylan Clay, son of Robert and Cassie Clay of Vicksburg, won the children’s division race. When asked his secret to getting his green-painted armadillo to cross the finish line first, Clay said simply, “You gotta’ let him pee before the race.”

After the events, the armadillos were trucked away and released. Norris said he plans to host the Third Annual Redneck Adventures Armadillo Roundup next year to raise even more money for the Shriners. The fraternal organization, now with about 400,000 members nationwide, opened its first hospital in Shreveport, La., in 1922. Since then, the 22 Shriners hospitals have spent $8.2 billion providing care for children up to age 18 with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries or cleft lip and palate. Services are provided at no charge–regardless of financial need.