Crabs take to the track for Berret's 25th and final crab races

hbridges@vagazette.com

The crowd buzzed with anticipation as the racers took to their marks. This was no ordinary race.

“And they’re off!” announcer John Cerminara, 24, yelled into a megaphone.

With a cheer from the crowd, the crabs skidded sideways down the handbuilt wooden track.

Despite overcast skies, a large crowd gathered Sunday for the 25th and final annual crab races, a beloved tradition at Berret’s Seafood Restaurant.

“Nobody’s ever seen crabs running down a track before, unless they come here,” said Jennifer Austin, wife of Berret’s owner Tom Austin.

Participants on Sunday sponsored approximately 50 crabs, with names such as “Leonardo da Pinchi” and “She Biscuit,” raising an estimated $2,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Tom Austin first witnessed crab racing at an event in Crisfield, Maryland. He brought the idea to Williamsburg with the goal of raising money for a good cause.

Twenty-five years later, Berret’s has raised over $25,000 for the Foundation.

Since 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has worked to save the bay from pollution and is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated to the cause.

According to the Foundation’s website, the organization seeks science-based solutions for pollution reduction within the bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed—encompassing more than 17 million people and 3,000 plant and animal species.

Berret’s sources much of its seafood to the bay. The races have been a way of giving back, said Charlie Little. Products from the bay are “what provided us with a livelihood,” he said.

A former employee of the Berret’s, Little has helped with the races since the inaugural event—he even built the original crab track. On Sunday, Little served as “crab starter,” launching the crabs from their starting positions and helping them down the track with the spray of a hose.

Throughout 25 years, Little witnessed people come out to the crab races with kids who are now coming to the event with their own children.

Michael Poissant attended the races with his son Dillon, 3. This was Dillon’s third time attending, and he would watch the races perched on his dad’s shoulders .

“He’s all about it,” Poissant said.

Poissant worked at Berret’s for a time, and “when I worked here, everybody was family,” he said. “I came to support them.”

As Berret’s final crab races, the event was bittersweet for many.

Cerminara, Tom Austin’s stepson, has attended the crab races since he was a kid, and Sunday was his first time announcing the races. He began the event with an emotional thank you to Tom Austin who, though unable to oversee the races due to health, sat in the crowd Sunday.

For Little, “It’s been a great run,” he said. “Been a lot of great friends made.”

And though the crab races at Berret’s might have ended for now, the fight for the Chesapeake Bay can still continue.

“Hopefully somebody might pick up the torch,” Cerminara said.

For more information on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, visit cbf.org.

Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Taphouse Grill has served locals since 1983 and is located at 199 South Boundary St.

Bridges can be reached at 345-2342.

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