For the past two years, the small town of Neosho, Missouri, has hosted a rally to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network. This year’s Choppers4Children rally, held on Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28, was moved to a new location just south of nearby Joplin, Missouri. The idea for the event was conceived by Scott and Kathy Watson. As an employee of Childrens Miracle Network , Kathy was well aware of all of the wonderful assistance provided by the organization to ill or injured children. The Watsons began recruiting sponsors and volunteers to stage a rally to raise funds for the charity. The first rally in 2005 was a huge success, and Choppers 4 Children has become an annual event.
The new venue includes a large amount of paved parking as well as many grassy acres allowing for plenty of room for growth. Primitive camping is available at the site, and there is a nearby campground for those who prefer a few more amenities. Joplin also has lots of motels if even more comfort is desired. Vendors set up around an asphalt oval with the concert stage at one end. Except for entries in the bike show or games, motorcycle traffic is limited to the parking lots and camping area, creating a safer environment for pedestrian traffic, especially children. Lots of entertainment and attractions are provided for a very reasonable $20 admission fee.
The Ill Conduct motorcycle stunt team, featuring Jeff Snyder, entertained the crowd with a series of spectacular stunts. Unfortunately, the assigned asphalt area was narrow and uneven with sharp drop-offs on both sides. There was barely enough room to turn the Buell motorcycles around. Also, it was difficult to keep the audience back far enough to provide a comfortable buffer. As a result, the team was limited and wasn’t able to put on its best show on Friday. The problem was solved by moving the Saturday performances to a much bigger paved space in another area of the grounds where the team had room to really put on a great show. One mark of a good rally is the flexibility to make changes on the fly in order to make the event more enjoyable for participants.
Throughout the weekend, free rides in the Dodge monster truck Raminator were available. There were no spectacular jumps nor were any cars crushed, but it was still a fun ride, especially for the many children in attendance.
Musical entertainment began Friday evening with Oreo Blue taking the stage. Head East followed with a high-energy show featuring Never Been Any Reason and other hit songs. The rally had been preceded by several rainy days, and thunderstorms were in the area again, but the rain held off during the evening concerts.
Saturday’s schedule included a poker run, a bike show, bike games, and more great musical entertainment. Due to soft turf in many areas, the bike show and games had to share a relatively small area, creating a bit of a handicap for the club in charge of conducting the games. The slow ride, tennis ball snatch, and balloon toss were a challenge for the competitors due to the slipperiness of the grass, but everyone had a good time, and no one fell off.
After the games, I spent some time checking out the colorful array of scoots displayed by builder Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas. I enjoyed wandering around to see what the various vendors had to offer.
I finally caught up with a very busy Kathy Watson. In spite of her hectic schedule, she was kind enough to agree to visit with me for a few minutes. As we were preparing for the interview, a cute young girl came running to give Kathy a big hug. I soon learned that 6-year-old Adriana is one of the many children who receive assistance from the Children’s Miracle Network in the Joplin area. After a brief visit with the charming little girl, Kathy and I talked about the rally.
CC: Kathy, please talk about your new location and why the rally was moved.
Kathy: For the first two years we were in downtown Neosho on the square. It was a lovely location, but we just outgrew it. The first year, we had about 5,000 people. Last year it was down a bit because of rain. We wanted to grow but couldn’t do that because of the constraints of being in the square. Some of the residents also had some reservations about beer sales. Dave Johnson, Ronnie, Donnie, and Brian Simpson own the beautiful property where we are now. My husband, Scott, decided to just give Dave a call to discuss the possibility of having the rally here. Dave was quick to agree. It’s really perfect, as you can see. It has enabled us to bring in name bands like Head East and Three Dog Night, add vendors, and get Rick Fairless and the Chrome Shop Mafia (CMT’s Trick My Truck guys). We could not have done a lot of that if it had not been for this location.
CC: I’m sure there was a big increase in the workload and planning.
Kathy: Yes, we’ve had to recruit more volunteers and new sponsors, but the great thing about it is that when you have a great charity like Children’s Miracle Network, people are very generous with their time and sponsorships. The money we raise stays locally, so that the people who come to the event know that it is going to provide money to help local families with sick or injured children.
CC: Please tell me about Adriana.
Kathy: She was born prematurely, weighing just over a pound and a half. The doctors told her mom that she would probably not make it through the night. She had a brain bleed and they said if she did survive, she would probably be mentally retarded and never walk. You spoke with her, so you know that not only is she walking, but she’s a very bright, precocious little girl with a great smile and a huge heart. Children’s Miracle Network has been with her since day one. She stayed at the C.M.N. neonatal intensive care unit with the majority of the medical equipment there provided by C.M.N. We provided her with a walker and braces. We helped the family when she needed to see a specialist. She needed a shunt put in her brain, and we helped with trips to St. Louis to have that checked and updated. She’s just one of many kids that we have helped. This event over the last two years has donated over $80,000 to Children’s Miracle Network. There is no paid rally staff. It’s all volunteers, over 200 of them, so it really keeps the rally expenses down so that most of the money coming in goes directly to the charity.
CC: With the rain over the last few days, you have had some challenges.
Kathy: We have soggy areas and some vehicles have gotten stuck. A few people probably stayed home last night because of the rain. But it’s gorgeous now and will be that way for the rest of the weekend. Since it’s the first year at the facility, we are still learning and can keep making the event better each year.
CC: Kathy, I know you have a lot to do. Thanks for your time.
After talking with Kathy, I went over to look over the bike show entries. Judges narrowed the field to the top two or three bikes in each category. At 3:00 p.m., the chosen bikes participated in a “battle of the bikes.” Each entry was rolled up on a low stage to give the spectators a better look, and the class winners were selected based on audience applause. The winners of each class drew for positions on a bracket, and elimination rounds were held, once again decided by applause, until the best of show bike was selected. It came down to a highly customized bike featuring a Corona Beer theme and owned by a visitor from out of state versus a Heritage Springer shown by Mike Yeary of Joplin. Mike took home the first place award. In a separate “bike build-off” competition, Joplin’s Jamie Vangel was the winner.
Saturday’s musical entertainment was provided by Kirby Kelley, City Limits, The Ben Miller Band, and feature band Three Dog Night. With 21 consecutive Top 40 hits and 12 straight gold albums, Three Dog Night was one of the most popular bands from 1969 to 1974. They had sold 50 million records by late 1975. They sang all of their most popular tunes including Joy to the World, Celebrate, One, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Eli’s Coming, Never Been to Spain, An Old Fashioned Love Song, and many others. It was a walk down memory lane for me. What a show!
Despite the soggy conditions, this year’s Choppers 4 Children Musicfest and Bike Rally was highly successful, raising about $75,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network and attracting about 8,000 attendees. The volunteers from C.M.A., scouts, and other organizations as well as individual volunteers are to be commended for their efforts in support of the cause. Special thanks to Scott and Kathy Watson and the Rally Board. Next year’s rally will be held during the weekend of April 25 through 27. How much can it grow? According to rally guide, “the sky’s the limit!”
Story and photos by Stripe
Special thanks to my tent neighbors Laura and Scott. They helped me set up when I arrived at the camping area. Larua volunteered to ride with me in the games, giving me the opportunity to be a participant instead of a spectator, and Scott snapped a few photos for me during the games. I hope to see you again next year at Choppers 4 Children.