Intermittent rain and hail couldn’t dampen the fun revelers enjoyed at the Justice McNeeley Foundation Poker Run held Oct. 16 near Pine.
In the early afternoon, about the time most ATV riders were wrapping up a long journey on Rim Country trails and old logging roads, hail began to fall near the Rimside Grill — the host site for the benefit. The hail sent riders scampering for shelter.
Some, however, braved the elements continuing to play in pick-up volleyball games and in a horseshoe tournament.
As the hail pelted a large tent set up outside the grill, the toe-tapping band Whiskey Creek played through without a pause. Event sponsors also braved the inclement weather, never pausing as they dealt out poker hands to those who had paid $10 each to enter the run.
More than 100 riders aboard a variety of ATVs, side-by-sides and motorcycles turned out to participate in the annual event.
The ride began at 10 a.m. in the morning at Rimside, which has been the host site of the benefit for the past five years.
This year, for the first time ever, the route offered options for an easier, shorter course or a longer one, which included an ending stint on the Beeline Highway from Strawberry to Rimside.
On a dirt Forest Service road that led to Twin Buttes south of Strawberry, riders battled choking dust clouds that had many wishing the rain had arrived earlier to settle the swirling clouds of powder.
At five stops along the way, riders were given a bead that entitled them to receive a poker hand once they reached the finish line.
After all hands were dealt out, Kathy Smith held the winning cards — three aces, which was worth $100 in prize money.
Katie Parks, Justice McNeeley’s mother and one of the benefit sponsors, says the winner had a special reason for participating in the ride, “she’s a Valley woman and has a son who has cerebral palsy, so she wanted to be here.
“She said she had so much fun and it was such a good cause, she wanted to come back again.”
Vince Snep drew three jacks and received $50 for his second-place finish.
In the horseshoe tournament, the team of Bowie McNeelege and Rody Janssen threw their way to a first-place finish.
Along on the ride was Justice McNeeley, the boy for whom the benefit is named.
“He really has fun, but his legs sometimes fall asleep on an ATV and I have to take him back (to the finish line) in my truck,” said his mother.
In the summer of 2004, friends of Justice McNeeley, then a 5-year-old Pine Pine Strawberry School kindergartner, banded together to purchase him a specialized wheelchair called a Go-Bot.
After much brainstorming, the friends settled on a benefit poker run and other accompanying festivities to earn the money needed to purchase the Go-Bot.
The boy suffers from spinal muscular atrophy — a form of muscular dystrophy — and the Go-Bot was designed to greatly improve Justice’s mobility over a standard wheelchair.
The success of the inaugural ride prompted organizers to continue to host the event and jump-start a foundation designed to help other needy children in the Pine-Strawberry area.
The McNeeley Foundation benefit poker run has since grown to become not only a way to help youth in need, but also a highlight on the Rim Country sports, recreation and social scene.
Event organizers estimate that this year’s benefit earned more than $5,000 for the McNeeley Foundation.
In the past five years, 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.”
Following Saturday’s run, Katie Parks expressed her thanks to all those sponsors who helped put on the event, including those who donated items for the auctions and raffles.
“We couldn’t do it without them and there are so many (needy children) up here,” she said.