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Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

LOWELL - Bodi Wilson wasn't at the Blackberry Jam Festival in Lowell on Saturday at midday, but still he cast a long, lean, untouchable shadow for the adults and kids - especially boys - who were there.

Wilson, 16, is an expert greased-pole climber. He has shimmied up the 9-foot festival pole and snatched a $20 or a $50 bill off the top multiple times during the past four years.

While other boys and girls pitch themselves at the pole dozens of times in their three-minute window to greased-pole fame, Wilson simply climbs to the top and gets the money.

He won the preliminary climb Friday night in one attempt; two other preliminary heat winners will try to best him in the final at 1:30 p.m. today. Spectators will be flabbergasted, when the slippin' and slidin' is through, if Wilson isn't the one with the $50 grand prize in his greasy mitt.

"It's his grip and his speed. He's a strong, wiry kid," said Maureen Weathers, who organizes the greased pole climb and the coins-in-the-hay scramble. "Bodi is like a suction cup."

The Blackberry Jam continues through about 4 p.m. today at the Rolling Rock Park at Lowell, about 20 miles southeast of Eugene.

An estimated 5,000 attend each year, but that's a guess because the old-timey festival doesn't charge admission, Weathers said. The grounds are pleasantly populated - compared with crowds at urban festivals - and the breezes that carry over Dexter Lake are mercifully cool in the summer.

The Blackberry Jam parade on Saturday was better than Halloween, from a kid's perspective, because every fire truck, convertible and horse brigade tossed generous handfuls of candy along the route. At Pioneer and West Boundary roads, about 30 kids scrambled for the suckers and sours and caramels that flew through the air, stuffing bags and ball caps with sweets. Jimmy Allen, a 4-year-old with a painted-on black Batman mask, had his cargo pants pockets bulging with candy.

Meanwhile, youth wrestlers Elijah Anderson, Hayden Trimble and Andrew Kintzley ran the car-smashing corner, where a '91 Chevy Citation was being pummeled mostly by boys at the rate of 25 cents for one swing of a sledgehammer - or $1 for five.

"The boys have more anger, so it's more fun," Anderson, 12, explained. The wrestlers have attended the jam each summer for most of their lives; elephant ears are their favorite eats, and now watching for girls is a pastime.

"I met my first girlfriend here," Kintzley, 9, said.

The younger festivalgoers also dig the coins-in-the-hay event.

Weathers rakes loose hay into a 4-foot round pile, about a foot deep, then seeds the pile with $10 worth of scattered quarters.

On her signal, 11 pig-tailed and ball-capped young'uns jump on the pile and look for the money. Weathers runs the event four times during the three-day festival. Organizers see it as a way to defray costs for the parents. "We're trying to make it near free," Weathers said.

The kids spend the quarters fishing for treasure behind a screen or tossing beanbags into a potty seat. They win blow-up vinyl guitars or whiffle balls.

When it's time for the greased pole climb, Warren Weathers gets out a ladder and a jar of petroleum jelly. He pins a $20 bill to the top of a 9-foot pole and covers the pole with a thick coat of climber-resistant goo.

More than a dozen kids assemble to try for the $20. A call echoes through the crowd. "Bodi's here. Bodi's here."

"Bodi only comes when it's greased pole time," a boy explains knowledgeably to another. But not this time; his arrival was a rumor.

The climbers ponder their strategies. Boys strip off their shirts, shed their shoes. Some leave them on. Either is allowed, Weathers said, as long as they aren't wearing caulk boots with spikes on the bottom.

"A guy asked if he could take his pants off. It's like, 'no,' " Weathers said.

The climbers place themselves strategically in the lineup. Going last is best because, by then, other contestants have wiped a lot of the grease away with their bodies or clothing. Some climbers make a standing jump to get as high on the pole as they can; others wear themselves out with running leaps.

The key, 16-year-old contender Nyc Sanders said, is to get as much of your flesh as possible - including your stomach - in contact with the pole for the best grip. Winners are invariably shirtless. Sanders also tries to reach up and wipe the grease away from the top of the pole on failed attempts to improve his succeeding chances.

The parents on the sidelines are full of pole climbing advice, which amuses Weathers.

"They say: 'Just do this. Just do that,' " she said. "If they only knew. Here they are thinking it's so easy."

On Saturday afternoon, Cobey Greco, 11, of Big Fall Creek was a contender. The black-haired boy with deep blue eyes wanted the $20 so he could buy ice cream, a lot of ice cream, but he couldn't quite make the top.

Maiah Flack, 10, of Oakridge, wowed the crowd.

"Check her out," a woman said. "She's going to get it."

Weathers silently willed Flack to the top.

The boys in the line screamed "Go, go, go."

Flack touched the top of the pole, but she just couldn't walk her fingers over to the cash. The crowd groaned sympathetically as she slid to the ground. Her shirt bore a wide swath of grease when she stepped away from the pole. She threw herself in the hay and rolled around, but on her next try she doesn't get very far.

"Oh, she's tired now," someone said disappointedly.

Soon after came Seth Johnson, 11, who just moved to Lowell and will be a new classmate with the others in the fall. He's a tree climber. He likes the ones with their first branches 20 feet off of the ground, he said.

"If I don't have anything to do, I find a tree and start climbing," said this brown-eyed boy with freckles on his cheeks.

Lickety split, he was up the pole with $20 in his hand. Next thing, his mother is hugging him and a photographer has asked him to unfurl and pose with his prize.

Johnson spent $12 on a sunstone necklace with a cut crystal bauble. He'd been wanting it since the Fourth of July, he said. He bought a bag of kettle corn and considered getting his face painted.

Today, Johnson will participate in a three-way final with a second- heat winner and Bodi Wilson, who earned his upper body strength "splitting wood and bucking hay," Wilson said in a phone interview.

Wilson is a wrestler, runner, football and basketball player, and a swimmer. "There's no fat on his body, that's for sure," Weathers said.

Wilson's technique?

He focuses rubbing the grease off one spot on the pole where he can get a purchase on successive tries, if he should need any successive tries.

"I jump really high and grip really tight," he said. "I just squeeze and put all my pressure into one arm and reach up to the top with my other arm."


Festival continues through 4 p.m. today at the Rolling Rock Park at Lowell with music, a quilt show and a fishing derby. Highlights:

Noon: Dr. Delusions Illusions Magic Show

1 p.m.: Pie eating and pie baking contests

1:30 p.m.: Coins in the hay

1:30 p.m.: Greased pole climb final

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Title Annotation:Local News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 31, 2011
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