Are you a blind or wheelchair individual and want to participate in sport activities that you usually are not able to participate in due to your disability? Are you age 40 or younger? If so, the International Sports Jamboree provided by the Verizon West Virginia Pioneers is the place for you! The jamboree takes place once a year during the third weekend of July at North Bend State Park in Cairo, West Virginia. The jamboree receives participants from both the United States and Canada with the majority coming from within West Virginia. The participants stay at the North Bend State Park’s lodge for Friday and Saturday evenings. Some of the participants and their family members stay in cabins within the park.
I have been attending a smaller version of the West Virginia jamboree in Runnemede, NJ, for about four or five years before I was first invited to attend the West Virginia sports jamboree in 2008. The first year I attended the New Jersey sports jamboree, I was introduced to a low-riding three-wheel bicycle. Prior to riding the bike, I was unable to ride a regular two-wheel bicycle due to balance problems. But the low-riding three-wheel bicycle allowed me to ride a bike without worrying about my balance. What a thrill it was as I rode around the paved area. Unfortunately, the New Jersey sports jamboree folded in 2012 due to multiple reasons. But luckily the West Virginia jamboree has obtained sponsors, which allows me to keep attending each year. Each year I eagerly await to hear if I will receive the letter asking me if I wish to attend. I never say NO, because the Jamboree is just too much fun to miss.
Most participants arrive some time on Friday, which allows them time to settle in their rooms, time to practice some of the events (especially good if you’ve never attended before), and time to meet old friends and perhaps some new friends. First, I should tell you about the park. The lodge is in the North Bend State Park, which is huge and offers areas for camping, trailors, fishing, and hiking. The lodge is at the top of the hill and the events are held down in the valley. Vans, some equipped to handle wheelchairs, take us up and down the hill all day long. Friday night dinner is held in the pavilion in the valley. Afterwards is one of my favorite parts; the LIVE entertainment (terrific country and gospel singers) at the amphitheater. Rows of seating are carved out in the hill facing the amphitheater. One of the performers, Tommy Griffith, does a little bit of country and gospel. During his performance, Tommy makes a point of going into the audience and shaking everyone’s hand. Tommy is also a little bit funny when he forgets a line or two while singing or when he can’t find his glasses to read the music! We have also seen his little boy grow and sometimes accompany his dad on stage.
Saturday morning is the big day. Everyone wakes eagerly for the day to begin, so they can participate in as many events as possible. The participants are anxious, smiling, excited as they enter for the opening ceremony. Roaring, cheering, clapping parents cheer each of the participants as their name is called. Then the fun begins as the blind and wheelchair participants each go to their first event. The day’s events include: a 40-yard dash (my favorite), beeping air gun, team relay, beeping basketball free-throw, golf putting contest, beeping horseshoe toss, beeping Frisbee toss, jam toss, bowling, and the bicycle race (also my favorite). Well, truthfully, I love participating in all of the events! And I should tell you that at each of the events, you get a couple of practice shots first.
Look out as the blind participants as they burn up rubber! They are harnessed up to a chain from a wired-track and we fly down the 40-yards! The 40-yard dash, one of my two favorite events, where I usually burn up the most rubber as I run like the wind to the other end of the track! Pretend Darth Vader is on your trail and run, run, run! They make sure to have two strong men catch me at the end. Next stop, air gun! The blind participants listen very carefully to the sound of the beeper to determine if they are aligned with the center of the target or not. The beeper will change pitch and frequency as you get closer to the middle of the target. Then, it’s fire in the hole! Afterwards you receive the paper target to see how you did. Sometimes, you hit the center and sometimes not!
After the firing range, it is time to see if I can sink a couple of putts. And yes, I had a couple of good putts. The putting contest is a lot shorter distance than what I experience at the golf outings I attend with the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association! Then I was off to beeper Frisbee toss where you attempt to throw the Frisbees into a beeping net. For some, it was challenging, especially when homing in on the beeper. But I gave it my best shot. Then, to end the morning, it was time for the jam toss. Jam toss is when you throw bean bags into in a slanted board with a hole. Let me tell you, this is challenging! Trying to figure out just how hard or gentle to throw the bean bag to make it into one seemingly tiny hole! I didn’t do too badly I thought.
After a quick lunch break in the pavilion it was time to try my hand at the basketball free-throw. You receive a certain amount of points for hitting the backboard, hitting the rim, and sinking a basket (of course that is the goal!). Everyone tries their best to sink the basketball, some with the aid of the beeper and some prefer someone tapping the basket rim. I gave it all my best efforts; ding it hits the rim; ding it hit the backboard; whoosh, it goes over the board; swish it goes in! Yeah! I thought I did pretty well.
Next event up: the team relay. Team relay has the blind participant run down the 40-yard dash and the wheelchair participant zooms back down from the other end of the track.
Heigh ho, heigh ho, it is off to bowling I go! First, this is not your typical bowling lane – it’s outside. Secondly, the pins are on a wooden lane lined with felt. And third, luckily, you slid the ball down a ramp onto the lane! So the challenge is to figure out just exactly how to angle the ramp, so the ball goes directly down the center, and luckily, all the pins come tumbling down!
The last event for me would have been the horseshoe toss. Both the blind and visually impaired participants are blindfolded and you attempt to throw the horseshoes at the beeping stake until one of the participants scores 21 points. I had never played horseshoes until I started attended this jamboree and I really enjoy the challenge horseshoes offers. And usually they have tandem bikes (another favorite of mine!). Two bikes are connected together with two bars in between them. A sighted individual is on one and the blind on the other. Going around the track, as fast as I can, is so much fun. I can’t wait for next year!
Saturday dinner is usually the most tender roast beef that they have been cooking all day long. So delicious! Fresh corn on the cob too! Generally, after dinner participants, parents, and volunteers gather at the amphitheater for the award ceremony. As each participant’s name is called, beaming smiles and cheers of delight expound from everyone. The excitement and joy is felt throughout the room. Once the award ceremony concludes we have the talent show, where everyone has an opportunity to perform something. Some people sing, some dance, some played a musical instrument, and some told jokes. Some acts were better than others. I participated in the talent show by singing “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley. Everyone enjoyed my performance and I believe I did a very good job. Of course mom cheered loudly for me!
And the evening does not end there, but continues with a dance. And this is just no ordinary dance. The volunteers tape bubble wrap on the floor. Each participant, blind or wheel chair-makes no difference, loves to pop the bubbles as they dance the night away! The energized dancers are rewarded with pizza and snacks.
Sadly, Sunday morning we wish all our friends, new and old, a fond farewell, as it is time for each of us to return home. We have been able to experience some sports that we never would have had the opportunity to try. And we can never thank all the volunteers too much for such a memorable weekend at the West Virginia North Bend State Park.
The West Virginia Verizon Pioneers are a non-profit organization. Some supporting Pioneers come as far away as Canada each year! There are many volunteers, young and old, helping the participants to take part in each of the events, cheering them on, and fixing and serving the meals. One volunteer, Bryanna, a West Virginia college student comes every year. She is very short compared to me, but she helps me run in the 40-yard dash. Mom says it’s too bad she already has a boyfriend, because she is so cute! I know, like the rest of the participants, that I really look forward to this event every year. The Pioneers rely on generous donations from businesses and supporting parents to run this event. So if you are a blind or wheel chair individual interested in attending this event, please contact Lonnie Pennington. You will be so glad you did!
If you want more details about the West Virginia jamboree, please visit http://www.newvision-wvapioneers.org/projects/jamboree or contact jamboree chairperson Lonnie Pennington at 304-722-3078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.