From newspaper “beautiful baby” contests to the Better Baby Contests held at county and state fairs across the country in the early 20th century, parents everywhere were interested in how their own children “measured up.” By the 1980s, such contests became less serious and more promotional in nature. In 1984, N&O writer Laurie Jones covered a local diaper derby. While it wasn’t an official sporting event, it still highlighted the competitive nature of parents and their tots.
If Eddie Caudle Jr. continues training as he has for the past few days, he could be an Olympics contender by the year 2000. But in the Caudle household, this year’s spectacle in Los Angeles will be overshadowed by the 9-month-old’s “athletic” victory Tuesday in the Diaper Derby.
“We practiced all day yesterday with him,” Eddie Caudle of Garner said after his son’s win. “Twenty years from now, he’ll be ready for the Olympics.”
Eddie won first place in the 6- to 9-month-old category of the Diaper Derby at Hudson Belk department store on Fayetteville Street Mall. Like other athletes, Eddie had trained on Gatorade. Caudle and his wife, Teresa, waved a baby bottle filled with the beverage to entice the infant toward the finish line.
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“We figured the Gatorade did it,” Caudle said.
About 85 babies, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 months, assembled in the store’s children’s department at noon to crawl their way to various prizes.
The babies, divided into three age categories, raced in groups of five. The mothers would place the babies on the starting line, then rush to the finish line to face the infants. The length of the race varied from 8 feet for the youngest to 12 feet for the oldest.
All participants donned white T-shirts that read “Diaper Derby.” Balloons attached to each baby’s diaper bobbed as the contestants crawled along.
Most races started with one or two contenders wandering in every direction – except toward the finish line – with dazed looks. Others planted themselves in the middle of the raceway and gazed blankly at the throngs of parents, siblings and friends frantically waving keys, stuffed animals, bottles or food and screaming words of encouragement.
Some contestants, apparently overcome with the event’s excitement, stayed at the starting line and cried. But eventually, at least one baby in each race would make it across the finish line into the waiting arms of Mom or Dad.
“She cried a little, but my husband and I would coax her on,” said Tyra Monroe of Raleigh. Her daughter, Erin Renee, 7 months, won in a preliminary round but lost in the final race.
“She only learned how to crawl two weeks ago,” Mrs. Monroe said.
Mrs. Monroe used crumpled newspaper to entice her baby, while Deb Pickren of Raleigh used a set of keys to encourage her daughter, Tania, 14 months.
“The keys definitely did it,” Mrs. Pickren said after Tania won first place in the 13- to 15-month-old category.
First-place winners received an engraved pewter cup, a $25 gift certificate to Hudson Belk and an infant-sized pair of Lee jeans. Those who came in second received a $15 gift certificate, and third-place winners got a $10 certificate.
Joy Ulrich of Raleigh said she brought her son, Justin, 12 months, after a friend told her of the event.
“It sounded like it would be fun,” Mrs. Ulrich said. Justin took first place in the 10- to 12-month-old category. The N&O July 25, 1984
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.
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