April 20, 2023. Louisville, KY.  – Two special awards will be presented at the Derby Festival’s annual They’re Off! Luncheon Presented by BAE Systems, Fifth Third Bank and Heartland on Friday, April 21 in the Grand Ballroom of the Galt House Hotel.

Each year, the Derby Festival presents the Fifth Third Bank Silver Horseshoe Award, a tradition since 1962, to an individual or organization for their outstanding service to the community. The Heartland Volunteer of the Year Award will also be given out at the luncheon, which kicks off a weekend of Derby Festival festivities at 11:30 a.m.

This year’s recipient of the Fifth Third Bank Silver Horseshoe Award is Latonia Bland, who is making a powerful impact in the city – one ice-cream cone and math lesson at a time. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Bland, a teacher and Louisville native, established the Math Academy of Louisville, a place that strives to empower black and brown students by narrowing the education gap in mathematics. “I felt like my classroom had to be the entire city,” she said.

To help fund the Academy, that same year she also launched BRAINFREEZE: Cones For A Cause, an ice-cream food truck, which also has a brick-and-mortar location that opened in the Shively area this year. Bland has also been instrumental in the creation of the Derby Festival’s Block Party event, which debuted in 2022 and was conceived as part of the Festival’s Derby Equity and Community Initiative (DECI).

Erik Helton has been named the 2023 Heartland Volunteer of the Year. Known for his positive energy, contagious attitude and enthusiasm, Helton has been a volunteer with the Derby Festival for more than a decade, including being involved with the PNC Tour de Lou cycling event since its inception 10 years ago.

An avid cyclist, Helton helps map and plan the PNC Tour de Lou route and the weekly training rides each year. He’s also a member of the GE Appliances miniMarathon and Marathon Bike Team and rides the route on race day to ensure safety for the thousands of runners during Kentucky’s largest day of road racing. His volunteerism extends beyond cycling, and you can also find him selling Pegasus Pins at Thunder Over Louisville and Kroger’s Fest-a-Ville on the Waterfront.

“What keeps me coming back year after year is really the participants of the event. The look on their faces… the involvement with the volunteers, KDF… it’s just a lot of fun and I really enjoy it.”

Another highlight of the 2023 They’re Off! Luncheon is featured speaker Matt Iseman, host of “American Ninja Warrior.” The doctor-turned-comedian strives to inspire others with his motto that laughter is the best medicine when it comes to overcoming obstacles.

Iseman joins Lily Tomlin, Robin Roberts, Larry King, Leslie Stahl, Sam Champion, Terry Bradshaw, Erin Andrews, Magic Johnson, Bob Costas and James Earl Jones in a long list of luminaries who have entertained They’re Off! Luncheon audiences.

The They’re Off! Luncheon, first held in 1957, serves as the time-honored kick-off to each year’s Kentucky Derby Festival. It’s the second-oldest event on the Festival schedule.

Presenting Sponsors for the event are BAE Systems, Fifth Third Bank and Heartland. Contributing Sponsors are The Galt House Hotel and Kentucky Proud. Media Sponsor: Louisville Business First. Supporting Sponsor: Monticello Banking Company.

June 21 - June 21