Big Pine Benefit Poker Run Is This Saturday

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The highlight of the Pine-Strawberry fall sports and recreation scene for the past six years has been the Justice McNeeley Benefit Poker Run.

It traditionally attracts riders from Payson, Pine-Strawberry, Southern Gila County and the Valley area.

This year’s benefit will be held tomorrow, Oct. 16, beginning with a 9 a.m. registration for the poker run, which begins one hour later.

All the festivities will be held at the Rimside Grill located just south of Pine off the Beeline Highway.

Oddly enough, the members of the Rim Country Water group have scheduled a meeting to be held that same day beginning at 10 a.m.

It seems the group would want to throw all their support behind the benefit poker run and hold their meeting on another date.

But the conflict might not adversely affect tomorrow’s turnout.

Along with the actual ATV-Quad run, a single-elimination horseshoe tournament is expected to be a highlight with winners receiving prizes. The tournament will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The entry fee for horseshoes and the quad run is $10 each.

A live band, Whiskey Creek, will begin performing at 1 p.m. The auction, raffles and giveaways will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Although the prize and raffle list is still being finalized, past years’ prizes have included a load of granite donated by a local building supplier, restaurant gift certificates, a four-wheel alignment from a tire shop, fishing poles, a gift certificate to a Pine antique store, storage shed rentals, a weekend at a luxury time-share and more.

While Rimside Grill doesn’t at first appear a likely spot for a volleyball tournament, the restaurant/bar actually features a very nice sand court. In past years, a tournament has been held, but there will be none this year for lack of a sponsor. That, however, doesn’t prohibit riders from having pick up games during the day.

In past years, upwards of 100 riders have turned out aboard a variety of ATVs, motorcycles, OHVs and side-by-sides.

Some are customized, high-dollar 800 cc rigs loaded with every accessory available. Some are older, smaller, less powerful models suitable only for a single rider.

All the rigs, however, have one thing in common — they are outfitted with coolers and ice chests filled with plenty of refreshing beverages for the journey.

During the ride — which gets off to a rip-roaring start at the Rimside Grill and travels to the Twin Buttes area before wrapping up back at the original starting line — there will be five stops where participants will receive a single playing card.

At the conclusion of the event, the entrants with the two best poker hands will be awarded prizes.

Most often, it takes an impressive handful of cards to win — Cindy Didomenico won two years ago with a full house.

The overwhelming success of the first benefit, held in 2004, prompted organizers to found the Justice McNeeley Foundation, which has a goal to help others, especially boys and girls in need.

Past benefits have earned in excess of $8,000 for the foundation.

Since the inception of the benefit, the fund has doled out more than $35,000 to help pay the medical expenses of needy Rim Country children.

“Dental, hearing, glasses, orthotics — anything they need, we try to provide,” said Justice McNeeley Fund chairman Chuck Collins.

“We are a 501-3C nonprofit organization and all our employees are non-paid volunteers.”

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