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introducing ‘City league’

The plan for &dquo;City League&dquo; is to form teams in each city and take part in a series of competitions staged at many of these cities. This league will culminate in a 10-day semifinal in Spartanburg, and then shift south for the final in Orlando.

The first show will be in February 2008. Then, in November, the teams will head to Spartanburg to compete in the semifinals.

&bsp;&dquo;City League&dquo; will consist of teams named after their city. Each team will feature at least four world-class, grand prix-level riders and horses. These city teams will compete in three events over the course of a long weekend, which will end on a Saturday evening Grand Prix. Points will be accumulated individually as well as by each team. Everyone will participate in the Spartanburg semifinals. But only the top six teams will go to Orlando to jump for the championship.

City League&squo;s mission is to bring grand prix show jumping to arenas where people of all walks of life can watch and promote wellness. City League is placing its focus on developing a fan base for this colorful sport and filling arenas with spectators. A secondary goal will then be to reduce show and entry fees for these top level riders and increase purses. Currently, many grand prix riders can barely make their costs of showing largely because there isn&squo;t any impetus to sell tickets to watch these events like we see in other pro sports.

Vic Russell said many people in the United States just do not realize how much excitement this sport generates and how economically rewarding it can be to the host cities.

&dquo;We need to return to what show jumping was in its heyday ‐ where fans came to watch, the stands were filled and we had formal fundraising events,&dquo; Vic Russell said. &dquo;People wore their &squo;Sunday Best&squo; and it was an event in their city.&dquo;&bsp;

He knows. He&squo;s seen it work in Europe. Show jumping in Europe right now is second only to soccer in popularity, he said.

European coliseums are filled to capacity; the evenings are exciting and feature fun-filled interludes of pony racing and terrier dog racing in between horse events, he said.

Show jumping is a &dquo;green&uot; sport. It&squo;s friendly to the environment and humane to the animals. In addition, City League wants to promote health at many different levels.

Pauline Russell agreed. She said there is even more to show jumping than just the competition. &dquo;Show jumping is a green, eco-friendly sport that families can come to watch together,&dquo; she said.

&dquo;In addition, we can provide fundraising events to raise money to fight cancer and promote health. We can do this in each host city,&dquo; said Pauline, a breast cancer survivor.

&dquo;Horses are the perfect vehicle to watch compete with their human counterparts. Most people do not realize just how much horses love the competitive spotlight. Horses at this level of competition are special and gifted ‐ they can reach down and do what it takes to win.

&dquo;They have a huge heart and know when they are a victor. They have great power and nobility, and team up with human athletes to truly be competitors together.

&dquo;That&squo;s what makes it so exciting to watch,&dquo; she said.

Jimmy Gibbs is waging his own war on cancer. Gibbs and his wife, Marsha, have donated a substantial amount of time and money to Spartanburg Regional&squo;s Cancer Center, which bears their name. Gibbs doesn&squo;t want to stop there, however. He wants to do whatever

he can to prevent cancer. This matches perfectly with the Russells&squo; vision.

They all are passionate in their quest to provide wholesome food at these events, promote healthy lifestyles and educate the public on cancer detection and prevention. Pauline, in fact, recently completed chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

On Nov. 18, Vic and Pauline Russell held a meeting at Georgia International Horsepark in Conyers, Ga., to nail down a couple of details for City League. Many grand prix riders attended and signed on to this project. They were as excited as the Russells, and they committed to formulating their teams and attending the competitions.

Another feature of this movement is to promote healthy canines. Obesity and cancer has significantly increased in dogs.

&dquo;City League&dquo; will also be &dquo;dog friendly,&dquo; meaning that this horse show venue will include features promoting and educating people on dog health. Funds will also be raised for area rescue organizations and animal research for cancer treatment and prevention.&bsp; Todd Duncan and his World Champion Frisbee dogs will be exhibiting at many of the shows. Todd and his gifted canine family are known as the &dquo;Xtreme K9 Academy&dquo; and have appeared on NBC, CNN and ESPN.

&bsp;Dennis and Kim Mitchell (Kimber-dan Farms) of the Knoxville City Team are also noteworthy in the animal rescue. They started the SOS Animal Relief Fund and spent 8 weeks in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina feeding and caring for animals. Their organi-zation was 100 percent volunteer and received the 2007 ASPCA Award for relief efforts.

I am proud to be part of a movement that might possibly be the &dquo;last sport frontier&dquo; to be developed. What&squo;s not to like about City League? The organizers and riders want to carry this out in inner cities and leave money in the host cities; they want to stay family-centered with attendance; they want to serve healthy food; they want to reward grand prix riders with a fan base and visibility. And last but not least, they have Marsha and Jimmy Gibbs to help develop this endeavor to its full potential.

So hang on, stay posted and let the shows begin. For ongoing information regarding this story as well as other news and profiles, please visit my blog at the Spartanburg Herald Journal&squo;s website: www.goupstate.us/index/php/horsesport.