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Article published July 23, 2013
Unicycle event offers strange sights
JACKSON TWP — It’s not every day you see a young girl dressed as a caterpillar doing a dance routine on a unicycle. But that scene, among others, is just what spectators are getting at the North American Unicycle Championship and Convention, an international event being held this week in Butler County. The convention features a plethora of events including marathons, time trials and even hockey and basketball games, all on unicycles. The event Monday, like all other activities at the convention, was free to spectators. It featured a freestyle performance in which riders of all ages participated in a judged competition in the Seneca Valley Middle School gym. Similar to Olympic ice skating, each competitor did a routine set to music within a time limit as a row of judges ranked them on a scale from zero to 10. Competitors donned all sorts of costumes for their routines, including a caterpillar, a wrestling outfit and a young boy with a huge, bushy beard. Fewer than 20 participants took part Monday since only the advanced and expert-level unicyclists were allowed to compete. One of those is 18-year-old Chris Hugo, the reigning national champion in the advanced freestyle category who traveled from Minnesota to take part. However, Hugo also was a judge for the first competition of the morning, the advanced freestyle women’s event. The young man said he was excited to finally perform before an audience after many months of training. “It’s not a sport that’s super intense,” he said. “But it definitely takes a lot of practice.” Hugo watched intently as some of the women competitors warmed up on the gym floor. Some rode their unicycles with one leg, others preformed tricks that defied gravity and balance. Or, as spectator Kathleen Lawler from North Dakota said, “there are things you never dreamed could be done on a unicycle that are being done here.” Josh Meeder, a Harmony businessman and an organizer for the event, agreed, adding that the weeklong convention should bring plenty of people to the area. There are 28 states represented, as well as participants from Australia, Canada and New Zealand. These people, along with their friends and family, are also bringing their wallets to the county. “Something like this helps put our little town on the map,” Meeder said. “So far the locals here have been very receptive.” Indeed, the parking lot outside the school was full of cars with license plates from states such as Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. There were so many out-of-town participants that it was hard to find any county residents among the throng. But one county resident watched the competition from the hallway in between breaks from practicing for the hockey game to be played later Monday. Steve Walter is a member of the Butler Wobble, the unicycle group that brought the convention here and helped organize it. He said this event is an unbelievable chance to showcase the beautiful scenery of Butler County along with the friendliness of its people. But most of all, Walter said it’s a chance to show people the unique sport of unicycling. “Just look around at everything here,” he said in the school lobby as people raced past on unicycles. “Honestly, why wouldn’t people want to come out and see this?” Events that visitors can see today include freestyle novice, intermediate and adult, individual and pairs, from noon to 3:30 p.m. and multi-freestyle from 2 to 3 p.m. at the school. On Wednesday there will be track racing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., obstacle course competition from 10 a.m. to noon, jumping events from noon to 2 p.m., speed trials from 2 to 4 p.m. and flatland racing from 5 to 9 p.m., all at Seneca Valley High School.