In the summer of 2004, friends of Justice McNeeley, then a 5-year-old 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 the standard wheelchair he then had.
Among the benefit festivities, which were originally held at the Sidewinder Saloon, was a silent auction, barbecue dinner, horseshoe tournament, pool tournament, a raffle and the quad poker run.
Only an hour after the poker run wrapped up, the day culminated with one of the most emotional moments ever witnessed in the tiny, mountain hamlet.
Justice’s father, Trent, lifted his son onto the Go-Bot — which was specially delivered to Pine from North Dakota — allowing the boy to take his first-ever ride on a device that was sure to bring him newfound freedom.
“You people better watch out, here I come,” Justice said as he spun around the parking lot.
Since that inaugural benefit, Justice has attended most every event, greeting visitors while frolicking in the multitude of activities.
The overwhelming success of the first benefit prompted organizers to found the Justice McNeeley Foundation, which has a goal to help others, especially boys and girls in need.
The McNeeley Foundation benefit poker run has since grown to become a highlight on the Rim Country sports, recreation and social scene.
Past benefits have earned in excess of $8,000 for the foundation.
Since the inception of the benefit, the fund has doled out thousands of dollars 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 501c3 nonprofit organization and all our employees are non-paid volunteers.”
The festivities, which moved in 2005 from Sidewinders to the former Rimside Grill, located on the Beeline Highway just south of Pine, include the quad poker run, horseshoe tournaments, live band entertainment, raffles, auctions, giveaways and lip-smackin’ food served up by the restaurant.
This year’s event will be held Sept. 22 beginning with a 9 a.m. registration for the poker run, which begins one hour later.
The ride starting line has moved back to Sidewinders, located on the corner of Hardscrabble and Beeline. The finish line will be the former Rimside Grill, now known as THAT Brewery & Pub.
Upwards of 80 riders have turned out in the past 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.
In past years, the ride was held in the summer months, but because the trips turned hot and dusty, organizers changed the date to the fall when high country temperatures are much cooler.
The course takes riders to the Twin Buttes area before wrapping up back at the original starting line. Along the course, 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. Prizes will also be awarded for worst poker hand.
Most often, it takes an impressive handful of cards to win — Cindy Didomenico won two years ago with a full house.
While THAT Brewery & Pub 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 on the courts, but this year only pick-up games will be played.
A single-elimination horseshoe tournament is expected to be a highlight, with winners receiving prizes. The tournament will be held 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. The entry fee for horseshoes and the quad run is $10 each.
A live band, Strawbillie Blue Band, will begin performing at 2 p.m. The auction, raffles and giveaways will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
For details, call Katie Parks at (928) 238-0155 or Collins at (928) 476-3479.