Despite pandemic's challenges, Norge tournament a soaring success
Getting the Norge Ski Club's 116th annual Winter Ski Jump Tournament off the ground this year was an uphill battle, given the challenge of COVID-19.
But judging from the enthusiasm of the gathering Sunday in Fox River Grove, the event had a smooth landing.
Guy Larson, chairman of the Norge Ski Training Center, said a crowd of 1,200, including volunteers, was expected, far below the 7,000 to 8,000 the event usually draws.
Still, "the nice thing about the Norge crowd is that they love it," Larson said. "They come out here and have an absolute blast."
Nobody balked at the increased ticket price, which went from $15 to $30, he added.
"It sold out in a matter of days," Larson said. "The fact that it sold out so fast told us that everybody was appreciative that we are having an event."
The club followed COVID-19 safety protocols, including having athletes in a special area and asking people to wear masks and socially distance.
With the heavy snowfall Saturday night and Sunday morning, Larson said, snowplow crews began clearing the area at 3 a.m.
Tailgaters arrived as early as 9 a.m., unpacking coolers, setting up tents and campfires, spreading beverages on tables and doling out ham, scalloped potatoes, beef stew, bratwurst and other goodies.
Dan and Beth Webster of Woodstock were among the spectators
"Less people, (but) still tailgating," Beth said.
"It looks like they're still going to have the same old fun," added Dan.
Plenty of regulars returned, some wearing Viking helmets and others ringing cowbells and blowing horns.
Bedecked in Norge Ski Club buttons was Bill Martenson, who designs the buttons and has been attending the event for more than half a century. This year's button is a masked skier and the legend "Norge Strong 2021."
"Corona's not going to stop us," Martenson said.
Sunday's jumping began shortly after 1 p.m., following Crystal Lake resident Brandy Braxton's rendition of the national anthem and the awards given for Saturday's jumps. Braxton, who grew up in Fox River Grove, has been singing the anthem since she was 12 years old. On Sunday, she attended the event with daughters Kiara, 17, and Autumn, 8.
Among Saturday's winners was 20-year-old Faith Kocher of Algonquin. "It was really beautiful yesterday," she said. "The conditions were perfect."
The athletes were happy to have a venue.
"There were a lot of other competitions canceled, so it's just nice to have the competition," said Jacob Fuller, 19, of McHenry.
Among those cheering the day's 15 jumpers was Lori Brown of Fox River Grove. Her son, A.J. Brown, went from the Norge club to the USA Ski Jumping team and Olympic trials.
There were some doubts organizers would be able to pull off the event, under the circumstances.
"So just having it limited and following all the protocols, I think it's going to be a success," she said.