Sam McKnight, 14, of Cumming said he doesn’t get much of a chance to participate in outdoor sports when he is at his parents’ house. But when he visits his grandparents in Gainesville, he has fun getting to throw tomahawks and going fishing.
He had the chance to enjoy those activities and more at Saturday’s JAKES Day sponsored by Hall County Parks and Leisure Services and the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation. JAKES stands for Juniors Achieving Knowledge and Ethics in Sportsmanship.
After McKnight tried to hit a poker card on a stump with a tomahawk Saturday afternoon at the Chicopee Agriculture Center, he decided he was pretty good at it. He said tomahawk throwing and skeet shooting were the most fun activities that JAKES Day had to offer.
"It’s always a good skill to have," McKnight said of tomahawk throwing. "It’s another sport, and I like sports a lot."
Donny Miller with the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation brought his daughter, Reese Miller, to the event and volunteered at the bow and arrow booth. Miller, who has worked at the event for four years, said JAKES Day is a good way to reignite people’s interest in outdoor sports.
"We want to get kids back into nature," Miller said.
Miller said not as many youth get out and hunt with bows and arrows or at all, and the event was a good way to teach them the proper way to shoot a bow and arrow, and how to hunt safely.
It was snake master Steve Scruggs who taught everyone how to be safe around snakes. Scruggs, who taught children how to tell the difference between a venomous snake and a nonvenomous snake by looking at the shape of the snake’s head, its eyes and its skin, offered some sound advice for not getting bitten by any kind of snake.
"Never touch a snake in the wild," Scruggs cautioned.
"Leave that snake alone," he had the children repeat over and over.
Scruggs let onlookers hold various snakes, like a yellow rat snake, but still cautioned them to stay away from the animals in the woods or anywhere else, telling them that a snake can bite as fast as a person blinks an eye.
When the Scruggs was not showing off his slithering friends, the catfish rodeo rounded up a lot of the JAKES Day kids.
While about 30 children stood around small pools full of catfish holding poles with looped wires on the end, Bill Bostock, a member of Lanier Bass Masters, explained that the "lassoing" allowed kids to catch multiple fish multiple times without having a hook harm the fish.
However, Bostock rotated the stock of some 300 pounds of catfish to allow them to rest from constantly having a ring around their waists.
"They get a little tired of being lassoed," Bostock said.
The catfish rodeo was the most popular event of the day, Bostock said, but he had not had a chance to count how many children had visited the pools.
"I have been busy playing with fish all day," he said.
Bostock said the catfish were to be returned to a local catfish pond at the end of the day.
In the skeet shooting range, 22-year-old Gainesville resident Megan Dunahoo blew away the sporting clays. Saturday was the first time she tried her hand at some of the sports, but Dunahoo admitted it took some practice to hit the first one.
"I wasn’t hitting anything that first time," she said.
At her second go around at skeet shooting, Dunahoo hit six of the clays — four back to back. She said shooting became a lot more fun once she realized she was good at it.
"When you’re not good at it, it’s not as fun," she said.
Dunahoo, a recent graduate of Georgia Southern University and future teacher at C.W. Davis Middle School in Hall County, said she made her first trip to the JAKES Day to see what her dad had been up to all these years. Her father, Emory Dunahoo, is a member of the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
"Usually, the girls don’t shoot when they get out here," Emory Dunahoo said.
Marci Summer, the event organizer, said JAKES Day, in its fourth year partnering with the Foothills Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, was one off Hall County Parks and Leisure Services most popular summer events.
"We have folks calling year round saying ‘When are y’all going to have JAKES Day again?’" Summer said.
Summer estimated that nearly 1,000 children would visit the Chicopee Agriculture Center for the event by the end of Saturday afternoon, but said it was a group of 50 volunteers, months of planning and donations from the Wild Turkey Federation that made the free event possible.
"It’s that core group of volunteers," Summer said.