Instead of a walkathon or a cookie sale, Big Brothers Big Sisters went to the buses for a tougher fundraiser yesterday. They recruited seven corporate teams willing to drag 13 1/2 -ton MTA buses 60 feet to the finish line.
Baltimore's first ever Biggest Little Bus Pull, which raised about $15,000 for the organization, played out yesterday at the Reisterstown Metro Station. The community event "gave us an opportunity to recruit mentors and raise visibility," said Robin Tomechko, president of the Central Maryland chapter of the national organization.
The image of pulling together against hefty odds was not lost on the crowd, which was frequently reminded that more than 800 boys are waiting for a Big Brother.
"You hear about all the problems these kids have, and you ask yourself, 'What can I do?' " said Stewart Edmondson, a fitness coach and Big Brother to 11-year-old Langston Lee.
The duo, together for 10 months, figured a bus pull was a good way to start off their Saturday. Edmondson anchored the Big Brothers team, and Langston cheered from the sidelines.
Before the first heat, Stanford Franklin, puller and the Maryland Transit Administration's deputy director of safety, assured teams the feat was "very doable and completely safe" and described an airplane pull at BWI Marshall Airport a few years ago. He did admit that the course "is actually 62 feet to the finish line, but we tell them 60."
Jen Hill, community relations manager for Comcast, said she had no trouble enlisting co-workers. "People thought it sounded weird but fun," she said. "I didn't realize the 13-tons part."
Mary Allan, a co-worker and a Big Sister in the program, stood ready at the rope and joked, "I want my obit to read, 'She was trying to help.' "
The slight incline of the course prevented the 45-seat vehicle from drifting toward the teams, who were required to wear sturdy work gloves as they clasped the heavy nylon rope. An MTA driver kept the bus in neutral and steered as teams of eight men or 10 men and women pulled.
On completing the first heat, a breathless Marc Clarke, host of 92Q's Big Phat Morning Show, said the competition gave a whole new meaning to the World's Strongest Man Contest.
Comcast lost in the first round to the team from the radio station, which Hill said "had bigger dudes and got a faster start." Her teammates wondered aloud if they could avenge their photo-finish loss by cutting off the radio station's cable. Many were relieved they did not have to pull again.
"We are eliminated," said Scott Brewer. "That means we get to go to the Fells Point Festival."
Raymond Cain, 87, who has been a Big Brother for 40 years, sat on the sidelines for the first rounds, but joined the action in the final heat. He donned the requisite gloves, but kept on his oxfords, sport coat and tie, and pulled right along with fellow Big Brothers.
Cain remains in touch with the five boys he helped reach adulthood. The oldest is a policeman, and the youngest just graduated from college.
"I did everything I could with them," Cain said. "For me, this was a chance to help somebody looking for direction."
The Big Brothers team came in a close second, bowing by inches to 92Q, which took home the trophy. The organization grew by five new mentors yesterday, including Clarke, the radio host.
"I challenge all you guys," Clarke said. "These young people need to be exposed to good times like we had today."