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Autry: We treated our visitors like home folk
The rest of the world certainly had to be envious of our community on Saturday, Oct. 1. As for me, I was as pleased as a wide-eyed, little 3-year-old birthday boy who just received a lovable 6-week-old puppy as a gift.
Citizens tall and under-tall; young and of more maturity; and those with a distinct purpose for the day and others who were care-free all went outside that Saturday. Those 24 hours were the kind of day that makes chamber of commerce officials salivate.
If only you could bottle the flawless cloudless bluest of blue skies and the crisp, but not-too-crisp temperatures, you could name your asking price. You would have lines and lines of takers with countless U.S. treasury-printed bills with the likenesses of dead presidents imprinted on them.
Yard sales galore peppered the Screven County landscape. The local FFA hosted a cornhole tournament drawing 14 two-member teams. Hiltonia held a fall festival to honor the coolness of the evening air.
Everybody seemingly wanted to take advantage of the first day of October.
And not all of them had plans of taking it easy. Seventy-six – some local and some from the far reaches of Atlanta -- came to Sylvania to really see Sylvania. Upon their arrival, they saddled up on their bicycles and pedaled courses of either 12, 30, 50 or 100 miles.
They came for the southern Georgia scenery. They came for the camaraderie. And they came for the exercise.
However, we believe they left with so much more. They left with a super impression of Screven County and its people. Upon the completion of the “Between Two Rivers Bike Ride” to benefit the local United Way, the cyclists were extremely pleased with what they had seen and how they have been received. For the hours those riders were in Screven County, they, as far as we were concerned, were Screven Countians.
We treated them as home folk.
The rest stops, strategically positioned about every 12 miles on the longer bike routes, were mostly at community churches that opened its doors for riders’ bathroom breaks while its congregation members provided an array of energy-boosting snacks and reinvigorating beverages for cyclists – some of whom would log roughly the same mileage as two consecutive round-trips from Sylvania to Statesboro.
But these individuals weren’t using gas-propelled vehicles. Instead it was pedal power for them.
While the church members were marvelous, they had additional assistance from United Way-supported agencies and other caring citizens.
At each stop, the riders were welcomed by a dozen or more smiling people offering treats. There were plenty of water, sports drinks, nutritional bars, bananas, Georgia peanuts, pastries, apples, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, slices of cake, grapes, biscuits, muffins, brownies, and a litany of other eatables.
One thing no one can deny is that Screven Countians definitely know how cook up some groceries and put out a top-notch spread. On Oct. 1, they proved that yet again.
But it wasn’t just the eats. It was the people.
Months went into the formation of the bike ride. To conduct a four-route course, have those treks fully manned, and have riders actually on the rides, it takes heart, lots and lots of heart. You have to have incentive. You have to have stamina. And, probably more than anything, you have to have confidence.
You can’t have a bike ride of this magnitude without the support of many. The churches; county, city and state law enforcement; emergency medical services; county government; city government; chamber of commerce; development authority; and the roads and bridges department.
But the reality is even though all this personnel came together for one project does not assuredly translate into success. The “build it and they will come” mantra only works if the event is circulated throughout the state in a fashion that entices people to journey to our niche of paradise.
So to distribute the news of the bike ride everywhere and anywhere fliers and registration forms were made available at bicycle shops in Statesboro, Augusta and Savannah. E-mail blasts were done to bike clubs from the North Georgia mountain top of Rock City to the wetland home of the Okefenokee Swamp and to the great Peach State regions in between.
We asked the bike clubs to put our community event on their calendars. We used a lot of words and phrases like “please,” “we appreciate it,” and “thank you, thank you, thank you.” We explained the registration fee included a really spiffy T-shirt, a breakfast, an end-of-the-ride sack lunch, and a take-home goody bag.
And, of course, the money was going to a worthy cause – the United Way.
We completely understood that not everybody would pack up the spouse and kids in the minivan and travel an hour to five hours to come to Screven County with this being our go around at a bicycling event.
But if we could get a few to make the journey to join our local riders, we knew we could build on those numbers for next year.
And they came to our first-ever ride. Thank goodness.
They came from Swainsboro. They came from Buford. They came from Richmond Hill. And they even came from Normal, Ill.
Yes, you read Illinois – as in the birth home of Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill and Nobel-winning author Ernest Hemingway.
One of our dedicated United Way board members, Ed Thompson, routinely can be seen traveling the highways and byways of the community in his green-and-white pickup. On the front of that Chevy is a green tag that simply reads “Whatever It Takes.”
Oh how very accurate. There was some wishful thinking that went into the planning, but even more praying. The big guy up stairs most definitely had something to do with the picture-perfect weather for our famous ride on the first of October.
God’s blessing of a gorgeous day was accented by our locals simply being themselves. That was clearly evidenced by our law enforcement and volunteers providing Saturday college football game updates to the riders who were logging in the miles. With the cyclists wearing skin-tight clothing with school allegiances to Virginia Tech, Nebraska and Georgia Southern, some of their thoughts obviously were on the gridiron.
And if you happened to be one of the ones tackling the century ride, tacklers in pads might be quite a diversion from pistol-pumping your knees. To that effect, Mark Mundy, a deputy with the Screven County Sheriff’s Office, drove his patrol car slowly behind a couple of the cyclists with the University of Georgia’s game in Athens against Mississippi State being broadcast over the speaker so the riders could listen.
The Dogs – the UGA ones that is – would win their contest between hedges that Saturday and we were all winners in Screven County that day.
Enoch Autry is the publisher-editor of the Sylvania Telephone. Autry also serves as this year’s United Way president.