State’s Silliest Annual Event is No Bull

by: Ryan Cormier, The News Journal

How big is Saturday’s Running of the Bull event in Dewey Beach?

Well, just last month, E! Online published its “Ultimate Summer Bucket List” of 17 summer events, and in between heavy-hitters like Comic-Con and Lollapalooza, there was Dewey’s infamous bull.

“Delaware doesn’t usually come to mind when trying to think of an amazing place to party this summer, but most people have never been to Dewey Beach,” the website for the E! entertainment cable channel reported.

“Of course the bull is fake, and we can only assume that copious amounts of alcohol are involved, but this event brings out thousands of people every year who flock to see what this party town has to offer.”

Entering its 18th year, the state’s silliest annual event is no longer a word-of-mouth party, like when it was first launched in 1997 by Washington, D.C.’s Michael McDonnell and a few of his beach house friends.

It’s now a legitimate save-the-date bash that draws up to 2,000 party-goers from across the country to watch two men in a bull costume chase giggling fun-seekers down Dewey Beach’s coastline.

McDonnell, now 44, has aged along with the event. Across its 18 years, McDonnell married his wife, Kaitie, whom he met in Dewey Beach, and they have two children, 3 and 5.

Now, the whole family gets involved thanks to the Kids’ Bull Run, which started three years ago after Kaitie hatched the idea. McDonnell jokes that the kid version of the event is “more mature” than what the adults get into later in the day.

Families will bring their little ones to the beach in Dewey at New Orleans Street at 9:15 a.m. for the 45-minute event. It includes a DJ dance party, an appearance by the Washington Nationals’ presidential mascots and, of course, kids playfully running away from the bull.

For the adults, Running of the Bull has grown into a full-scale festival over its 17 years. Revelers will crowd The Starboard parking lot on Saturday, listen to music from Laura Lea & Tripp Fabulous and take photos with the Washington Nationals’ mascots. Inside the bar, the liquor flows starting at 9 a.m. Large crowds will already gather at that early hour with some chugging from $25 magnum champagne bottles.

This is Dewey Beach, after all.

The real show comes when the masses cross Del. 1 to get to the beach and are then chased down the coastline by the “bull,” which is a pair of guys – longtime bull ends Garrett Walsh and Chris Williams – in a bull costume. The bull runners squeal in delight, and unsuspecting beach-goers can’t help but gawk, laugh and point at the absurd spectacle – usually with their jaws dropped.

Afterward, the crowd and the bull return to The Starboard’s parking lot, where a circle is formed and a matador, usually a Dewey Beach celebrity, then faces off with the bull in a comical bullfight.

Last year’s matador was Dewey Beach regular Jay McCarthy, 50, of Washington, D.C., who has attended every bull run since joining a beach house 11 years ago.

McCarthy says he was surprised when he was told he had been selected for the honor. Once the surprise wore off, the nerves kicked in. After all, he was surrounded by a rambunctious crowd with all eyes on him – and the bull.

“It was overwhelming. I was pretty nervous at first,” says McCarthy, who distracted the bull with a bucket of beer before he “stabbed” it for the win. “But it was a really cool experience. There’s a small group of people who have done it over the course of time. It was a real honor.”

McDonnell says he is still in disbelief that the small, homegrown event he helped found 18 summers ago is still such a hit: “The 21st edition will freak me out when I realize that there are people drinking there that were born the first year we did it.”

Since this is the bull’s 18th year, will it be smoking cigarettes and buying lottery tickets? McDonnell has an even scarier thought: “If there’s a draft, now he can serve.”

Unlike the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, which will see its week-long run end Monday, there have been no deaths or gorings in Dewey Beach. A few wicked hangovers and hearty belly laughs, sure. But the danger level is low, especially thanks to the chaperones who temporarily close Del. 1 to make sure the runners get across safely.

All proceeds, which usually amount to about $5,000, will go to the Rehoboth Beach Fire Department this year. More than $85,000 has been donated over the event’s 17-year run, McDonnell says.

In the past, the Dewey Beach Police Department also has been a recipient of funds raised from the run. But after the town declined an offer from Starboard co-owner Steve “Monty” Montgomery and other bar owners to help pay for extra Memorial Day weekend police officers, Montgomery decided to give it all to Rehoboth’s fire company.

Dewey Beach officials determined that acceptance of the funds would be a conflict of interest since their officers also police the town’s large bars, including The Starboard.

Those squabbles will melt away Saturday once Running of the Bull kicks off. It’s the biggest daytime crowd of the year at The Starboard, and it’s days like this that Montgomery and his staff really earn their keep.

“It’s my most stressful day, I’ll tell you. It’s an awful lot of people to control and be responsible for with all the publicity that comes with it,” Montgomery says. “When it’s all over and done that day, my 6 p.m. beer is the coldest, most refreshing beer of the year.”