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Pint-sized showdown on the hardwood

Sterling Hogge and Joel Saunders will always be able to say they got an early start as competitors.

In the same space in which the 2016 U.S. Vice Presidential candidates faced off for a debate in October, Joel, who is 7 months old, and 10-month-old Sterling faced off in Longwood University’s Diaper Derby on Jan. 19.

Angelica Tandy tries to coax her son, Joel Saunders, to crawl after taking off his socks to allow him to have more traction.

Angelica Tandy tries to coax her son, Joel Saunders, to crawl after taking off his socks to allow him to have more traction.

During halftime of the school’s men’s basketball game against visiting Radford University, Joel and Sterling were tasked with crawling from the free throw line to the middle of Jerome Kersey Court in Willett Hall, and the baby to get to midcourt first won the derby.

The event was part of Longwood’s Salute to Service night, which also featured presentations by Cumberland High School’s JROTC and Theta Chi Fraternity.

John Hogge lowered his son, Sterling, to the floor, and Angelica Tandy did the same with her son Joel, and moments later, Longwood’s Assistant Director of Athletics Marketing Steve Robertson announced that the derby had begun.

Sterling presses on past the 3-point line, turning his eyes toward midcourt and the finish line.

Sterling presses on past the 3-point line, turning his eyes toward midcourt and the finish line.

“It was fun and nerve-racking because you never know if they’re going to crawl or cry or what,” John Hogge said.

Sterling began crawling early, forming a big lead as the raucous crowd cheered and family members cheered on the progress from midcourt. Joel remained in place, but he kept watchful eyes on Sterling’s progress. Sterling stalled briefly, but ultimately reached the line to win the derby.

“He did great,” said Emily Hogge, Sterling’s mother, who was at midcourt during the event, trying to coax him to the finish. “He looked at me a few times,” though she added he was just enjoying being on the floor.

Sterling’s parents said he did not do any training in advance, but John Hogge joked about a strategic diet.

“I said we gave him a good hearty meal of protein and carbs and let him go,” he said.

Sterling, who has begun taking a few steps at a time at home, had a pre-derby meal of chicken nuggets, broccoli, cheese and apple juice.

His dad was pleased at his focus during the derby. Emily Hogge noted she had been nervous about the possible scare-factor connected of a noisy gym, but it did not end up being a problem.

“It’s the first game he’s ever been to, of any sort,” John Hogge said.

Though Joel did not make any forward progress on the hardwood in the derby, Tandy still thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Longwood Assistant Director of Athletics Marketing Steve Robertson gets the crowd primed for the Diaper Derby during halftime of the men’s basketball game Jan. 19 in Willett Hall.

Longwood Assistant Director of Athletics Marketing Steve Robertson gets the crowd primed for the Diaper Derby during halftime of the men’s basketball game Jan. 19 in Willett Hall.

“It was so amazing,” she said. “We had such a great time. He actually kind of moved backwards a little bit. I even tried to help him out by taking his socks off to give him a little bit more traction.”

Like Emily Hogge, Tandy was nervous about the noise, too, but Joel remained well-composed.

“Thankfully, he was fine,” she said. “He was into it even though he didn’t move.”

Tandy, of Prince Edward County, came to be involved in the derby after searching online for information about Longwood’s Alumni Family Game Day.

John Hogge, who lives with his family in Farmville and is director of audio visual services at Longwood, was invited to participate by Robertson.

At the end of the night, both Joel and Sterling had stayed up past their bedtimes and given their families experiences to remember, with a little help from Longwood.

“It’s nice that they actually have events to get the community more involved,” Tandy said. “I think that’s a great idea.”