John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs If Melvin Hitchens was still alive, the activities at Howelsen Hill this Wednesday night likely would put a smile on his face.
The weather outside has been cold, there is snow on the face of Howelsen Hill, and the jump series he supported, and continues to support even after his death in 2006, will take flight at one of America’s most famous ski jumping complexes.
The event will take place under the lights at Howelsen and is named after him and his brother. It will host a new generation of jumping stars.
You will find those young athletes stuffing pizza or maybe even a cookie into their mouth, drinking soda and preparing for their turn on the jump hill. This tradition has been around for years and has become a rite of passage for many of today’s top Nordic combined skiers and special jumpers.
Jumping was more of a passion than a tradition for Melvin, who jumped as a young man growing up in the Steamboat Springs area. Hitchens joked that there were three supreme moments in his life: “The first time I came off a big ski jump, the first time I flew an airplane and you know the rest.” His love of jumping led to his lifelong support of jumping.
That support continued after his death at age 83. He left a sum of money and his desire to have it continue. Thanks to those efforts, the series still is free.
These jumping events are open to anyone younger than 13 and there are divisions for Alpine and Nordic skiers. Children compete in jumps based on their age and ability.
This year, the four-event series opens Wednesday. Events also are scheduled for Jan. 27, Feb. 24 and March 17.
Registration starts at 4:45 p.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. the day of the competition. Parents are required to register their children and sign a waiver. Competition begins at 6 p.m. with each child getting two jumps.
Program organizer Terin Petersen, who took over the program this year, said she expects to see about 60 to 80 young competitors for the first event. Her goal is to make sure the jump series provides a fun, competitive experience. Her own sons, 13-year-old Spencer and 10-year-old Davis, have participated in the series for several years, and she says it is one of the truly unique things about our mountain town.
“It’s just a great time,” Petersen said. “It’s one of those things, just like Winter Carnival, that makes our town a great place to live. ”
The young athletes who will jump at this week’s Wednesday Night Jump Series will never have the chance to meet Melvin Hitchens or his brother, Errold, but they should thank Melvin because it’s his efforts that make Steamboat a great place to live.
He took the time to care about the traditions that make our town unique, and he took measures to pass them on to the next generation. It’s efforts like his that make our town so special.