By Rebecca G. Burton ~
Much of what makes life tolerable in the worst of times and joyous in the best of them happens when people come together.
The Fairmont Flyers are busy, once again, preparing for the sixteenth annual Ice Bowl in Fairmont, West Virginia on February 22. Over the last five years, a Chili Cook-Off was added to include more people from the community and raise more money for the designated charity, a local food pantry called the Soup Opera.
Like all things disc golf, the Soup Opera has a grassroots origin. It started in 1983 when a local couple, Larry and Sharon Zaccagnini, began handing out sandwiches on Fairmont’s Court House Square. Today, the Soup Opera feeds approximately 100 people a day and distributes other goods, free of charge, to anyone in need.
Ice Bowls are held by disc golf clubs across the country during the winter months primarily to benefit food charities. Since 1996, Ice Bowls worldwide raised over $4.5 million for the fight against hunger. The Fairmont Flyers have raised more than $35,000 running Ice Bowls for the Soup Opera over the last 15 years.
During Ice Bowl season, as I watch and hear about so many people coming together to help those in need, I often think about my son Seth. He was always looking out for other people, his friends and strangers alike. Seth once spent two weeks in Russia on a mission trip with the Methodist Churches of West Virginia. He and 20 others constructed a playground at an orphanage located near Moscow.
When I see disc golfers getting outdoors despite the horrible weather and having fun throwing discs, my mind turns to Seth. He was a free-spirited, creative person who loved the outdoors and lived for cross-country running, no matter the temperature.
When I arrive at the Seth Burton Memorial Disc Golf Complex, site of the Fairmont Ice Bowl, on February 22, my thoughts will surely be with him. And despite the heartache, I’ll take solace from the community that took root in the tragedy of his passing.
Located in Morris Park, the Seth Burton Memorial Disc Golf Complex houses two championship-level courses that were built as tributes to Seth. With the support of his friends and family, charitable giving and generous volunteers across the state, the first course, “The Seth Burton,” came to life in 2003. The second course, known as “Orange Crush,” was dedicated in 2008.
Both courses were developed and constructed by volunteers. Five-time World Champion Johnny Sias from Huntington, West Virginia designed the Seth Burton course. My husband Phil was the constant and many young and young-at-heart disc golfers helped as they could. As key players moved on, others appeared to take their place. Joshua Smith, a local pro player, came on board in 2004 and has been a mainstay ever since.
Josh, Phil and the Fairmont Flyers Disc Golf Club work hard to maintain the two courses, as well as to grow the sport in North Central West Virginia and beyond. Over the years, the courses and community developed and now both courses are rated in the top 50 in the U.S. on DiscGolfScene.com. League play has run unabated for more than a decade, and tournament participation is on the rise. The complex is also home to a women’s disc golf club, the Fairmont Lady Flyers.
We held our biggest tournament ever last September! The Fairmont Flyer’s fall tournament is known as the Seth Burton Memorial. Last year, there were 106 players representing a dozen states. The pro purse was over $5,500, with an overall event value of $23,787. The Fairmont Flyers added $6,000 to the pro and am purses in 2019 and will add $10,000 in 2020. The Seth Burton Memorial is a two-day tournament, a PDGA A-tier.
As the Flyers gear up for another Ice Bowl next week, I look forward to the fun, to the giant bonfire that will be lit and tended all day, to the players funneling in with their bags and discs and smiles, to the Soup Opera ladies who will arrive in time for the players meeting and say a few words of thanks and then to begin heating their chili over coals beside the fire, to the hopeful and hopeless comments about the weather, to the guys bragging about chili recipes and far-flung discs, to my husband Phil and his famous vegetarian chili.
On October 14, 1998, two vehicles carrying members of the Fairmont Senior High cross-country team collided on the way to a regional cross-country meet. They were two tenths of a mile from the site of the race. Our 17-year-old son Seth Aaron Burton passed on. Three others were seriously injured but gratefully recovered.
In the dark, painful days following the accident, Phil and I realized that we had a choice. We could either curl up and wither away ourselves or reach out and live our lives to honor Seth’s. Seth’s friends needed us, and we needed them.
Disc golf communities are rarely born under such tragic circumstances. But the most resilient communities are built on a similar understanding—a plain and simple awareness that much of what makes life tolerable in the worst of times and joyous in the best of them happens when people come together.
If you would like to play or support the Fairmont Ice Bowl, please register here.
Rebecca Burton is a social worker who has helped seniors and their families with life transitions for 30 years. She loves playing disc golf with her Lady Flyers and helping to grow disc golf in North Central West Virginia.