John F. Russell: Tradition built on support

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Chloe Banning is only 15 years old, but the aspiring snowboarder already understands our town's tradition of churning out Olympians.

As an athlete, Chloe says she can feel the support she gets from the community of Steamboat Springs every time she's on the slopes, and every time she steps into her classroom at The Lowell Whiteman School. Sometimes, it's as simple as a smile from a passing skier during training. Other times, the support is much more tangible.

Last week, she was supported by a group of people who have been stepping to the plate for the past 12 years. The Over-The-Hill Gang's track record of supporting Steamboat's brightest stars speaks for itself.

This year, the Over-The-Hill Gang's financial assistance program awarded $4,500 to six local athletes. Winners include Chloe, 18-year-old Alpine ski racer Jenny Allen, 17-year-old Nordic skier Missy Krause and 14-year-old Michaela Frias.

Nordic combined skiers Taylor Fletcher, 17, and Charlie Stoddard, 16, round out the list.

The scholarship money was generated though dues paid by the 300 members of the Over-The-Hill Gang. The awards are based on the athlete's potential, financial need and academic achievement.

The Over-The-Hill Gang hopes the cash awards will help offset the expenses of training and competing, and help top winter athletes rise to the top of their sports.

"If we can help pay for just one thing, then we feel like we are helping," Kay Burch said. Burch is co-chair of the gang's financial assistance program.

She says she understands that the money Chloe gets will not cover all the expenses that she will encounter this winter. But Chloe's mother, Beth, said it certainly helps. Chloe works in the summer to save money for her passion in the winter, so she knows the value of a dollar.

The efforts of the Over-The-Hill Gang have not gone unnoticed. It's clear that athletes appreciate the gesture.

The program also fits the character of our town, and is one of the reasons -in addition to the wonderful mountain scenery, great schools and active lifestyle - that many people want to raise their children here.

Where else are young athletes given the opportunity to chase Olympic-sized dreams? Where else are they driven to believe that if they work hard enough, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to represent their country on the world's largest stage?

But those dreams come at a cost, which many parents in this valley understand all too well. In some cases, the athletes and family can pay the bills that come along with those dreams.

But luckily, for other cases, there are individuals and groups that have stepped forward to lend a hand. People like Jim "Moose" Barrows, who hosts the "Moose is Loose" golf tournament every year to support scholarships at the Winter Sports Club. Groups like the Over-The Hill Gang, and companies like the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., also do their best to ease the costs.

The list of those who pitch in is too long to reflect here, and I'm positive that my knowledge of those who help young Olympic dreamers only scratches the surface of what this community gives.

Yes, it's true that Chloe Banning is only 15, but she understands the importance of support, which has been a part of Steamboat as long as the community's long-running tradition of fostering talented athletes.

- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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