Proceeds from pigeon event benefit young Fort Scottian

Friday, March 16, 2012
Pigeons take off in a timed racing event at Saturday at the Vernon County Fairgrounds. Proceeds from the occasion benefited a young Fort Scott girl undergoing treatment for leukemia.(Rusty Murry/Special to the Tribune)

More than 100 pigeon racing fans converged on Nevada on Saturday to talk pigeons, buy pigeons, sell pigeons, race pigeons and raise money for children stricken with cancer.

Pigeon fanciers from at least six states came to the Vernon County Fairgrounds to participate in club auctions and a bird auction that raised $2,798.18 for cancer patients. Each child chosen by the racers will receive $2,500.

The first recipient chosen in what will be an ongoing effort is 10-year-old McKenzie Peoples of Fort Scott, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia. Peoples and her parents will be presented with a check next week.

Organizer and Twister Combine racing club president Jerry Smith said he was very happy with the first-of-its-kind event.

"This kind of event is groundbreaking in the pigeon racing world," Club Treasurer Rick McKay said.

He added he "was extremely happy with the way it went; everybody was all smiles." Organizers hope the idea will spread across the country.

Billy Gates of Springfield, Mo., didn't bring any birds to the event but came just to be around other racers. Gates, 65, is a retired fireman and said he has been racing pigeons since he was 13.

"It's a decent hobby," he said, "something interesting for a retired person."

People from as far away as Wisconsin attended the event and birds for the charity auction were sent to Smith from California, Florida and several states in between. One bird was sold for $210. The club auctions sold items like feed, cages, caps, a saddle rack and more.

Jonathan Hyder, 20, of Nevada, who is studying wildlife management at Fort Scott Community College, attended the event because, "it's something I'm interested in, so I wanted to come out and talk to some of the people who do this all the time."

A meeting was held in the morning and several members visited Kenny Davis' Nevada farm to take a look at his new loft. Davis has only been racing pigeons for a couple of years. He has four or five pairs of breeders, though the loft could accommodate many more.

"My goal is quality, not quantity," Davis said.

Back at the fairgrounds while examining the birds to be auctioned, Brad Burger of Blue Springs, Mo., was using a jeweler's loupe to examine the muscle structure of the birds' eyes. According to Burger, he was looking for "particular structures in the eye" because the eye is the birds' primary navigational tool.

In the afternoon, about 100 birds were released for a timed flight back to their home lofts. They came out of a trailer in a whir of wings and flash of color. Some circled overhead, but a few of the birds immediately headed for home. Three red-tailed hawks also circled overhead, but all of the birds made it safely on their way. American Racing Pigeon Union literatures says thoroughbred racing pigeons are "able to fly up to 16 hours, at ground speeds often averaging in excess of 45 mph."

The auctions and drawings held later in the day were accompanied by a bake sale. There were grab bags and many other ways to buy or win a prize. All proceeds went into the same bank account for the sick kids. "It's all about the kids," Smith said.

Future races also will feature banded birds that will be used for raising money for the children. Birds in these races will have a pink band on their leg which can be purchased for $10. The person who purchases the pink band on the winning bird, or birds, that place will have a check in their name made out to the cause, Smith said. Donations also may be made to the Twister Combine account at the St. Clair County State Bank, 680 N. Second St. P.O. Box 539, Osceola, Mo., 64776. To get involved in racing pigeons or for more information, contact Jerry Smith at (620) 743-3039.