Ultimate Team Up hosts hunt for handicapped marksmen
By By Matthew Nascone
Gene White wanted a place to go hunting in the Atmore area and the Matthews family farm was that place.
White and 13 other physically handicapped individuals enjoyed a three-day deer hunting experience on the 9,500-acre plot of land owned by Hooper Matthews III and family Jan. 9-11.
"The Matthews are precious people," hunt participant Kimberly Jernigan said.
The land has been in the Matthews family since 1902 and the late Hooper "Big Hoop" Matthews Jr. had planned the National Wild Turkey Federation sponsored event last year.
"Daddy was the one who planned the event and now we have named it to honor him," Matthews III said. "It is also in memory of my aunt Betty La Penna Matthews and uncle Wefel Matthews."
Matthews said he has a special place in his heart for his uncle Wefel, and "Big Hoop" and Matthews III built a hydraulic lift for uncle Wefel. And this year's hunt was called the Matthews-La Penna Memorial Hunt.
"Before he passed away, uncle Wefel would use that stand all the time," Matthews said. "And now other people can use that stand."
Event participant Elvis Levoy was one of those such people and he had quite an experience up in the lift.
"I opened the windows on that thing before daylight and sat up there waiting on a deer," Levoy said. "And when I finally saw one I shot and she went to her knees twice, but we never could find her. But that lift is wonderful."
To accommodate the participants, each hunter had a group of three able bodied volunteers to help locate the deer, hold the rifle or help in any other way needed.
"We had a bunch of people take time off from work to come out and help us," Matthews said. "A lot of them are people our family usually goes hunting with. And that is what is so great about this event because it is not about the hunting, but the socializing and the relationships."
Those volunteers included, Eddie Gideons, Tammy Smith, Ronnie Rolin, Paul Dortch, Gene Dortch, Joe Coker, Rodney Phillips, Millard Peacock, Jerald Jaye, Ronnie Johnson, Terry Day, Richard Stuckey, Kookie Lassiter, Randall Rolin, Tony Lambeth and Jim Stark.
Steve Thomas, regional coordinator for the National Wild Turkey Federation and a leader of the Wheelin' Sportsmen program, agreed with Matthews.
"We do this program as a chance to give these participants an experience we take for granted," Thomas said. "This hunting camp is all about shooting the bull and ribbing each other about our misses. It seems as if everyone here has had a good time and that is all that matters."
Thomas came to Atmore last summer, after speaking with White at another Wheelin' Sportsmen function, to survey the land and see how the program would work and he said he left feeling confident in the success of the program.
"When I came up here last year I thought the land was beautiful," Thomas said. "Big Hoop is the most colorful, nice man I have ever met in my life and when I explained the program to him he was behind it all the way and wanted to see it happen."
Thomas said if anyone is interested in participating in any Wheelin' Sportsmen program to contact him at 601-626-0034 or call 1-800-843-6983. More information can be found online at www.wheelinsportsmen.org.
More than 40 businesses from around the area helped in some way with the hunt.
"All the businesses in the area have been overwhelmingly supportive of our cause and that is great to know," Thomas said.
Matthews said the event will be an annual occurrence and he wants to make sure everyone involved marks it on their calendar for next year so the fun times keep growing in the future.