National Balloon Championship To Return For BU Welcome Week

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    A hot air balloon from the 2001 U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship floats over Pat Neff Hall.
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    Balloons from the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships glow at the 2001 Welcome Week concert.
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    L to R - Sue Sloan, Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., and Gary Heavin.
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    Gary Heavin presents a $5,000 check to Cassie Findley, director of health education and wellness at Baylor, to benefit the Immortal Ten memorial fund.
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    Gary Heavin, founder and CEO of Waco-based Curves International, announces that the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships will return to Waco and Baylor next August.
Nov. 8, 2001

by Lori Scott Fogleman

The hot air balloons that flew over Central Texas during Baylor University's Welcome Week will return in greater numbers this summer, a Waco businessman announced at a news conference Nov. 6 at Baylor.

Gary Heavin, founder and CEO of Curves International and a former Texas state champion balloonist, announced that the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships will be held Aug. 21-25, 2002, at Baylor. The university hosted the event last August, with organizational support from Baylor students serving on the Welcome Week steering committee.

"The North American Balloon Association was so pleased with Baylor's hosting of the event, with the community support that we received and with the weather that they've agreed to hold the event in Waco again next year," Heavin said.

Heavin's company will underwrite the national-level sporting event, which plans to expand its competitive field from 40 to 60 balloons. The very best in the sport, including former world and national champions, will compete for more than $60,000 in prize money, Heavin said.

The balloon championship also will include a free outdoor concert and balloon glow on Friday, Aug. 23, at the Baylor intramural fields. Admission was charged last August for the concert by Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith. With Smith's performance drawing about 10,000 people, Heavin hopes a free concert featuring another top Christian act will double attendance next year.

Also at the news conference, Heavin presented Baylor with two $5,000 checks to benefit the Martha Lou Scott and Dub Oliver Excellence in Student Involvement Endowed Scholarship Fund and the Immortal Ten memorial fund.

Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr., who attended the news conference at the Bill Daniel Student Center, called Heavin's commitment to the scholarship fund "meaningful to the whole university." The fund was established by Welcome Week steering committee members from the past 10 years to honor the longtime service of Scott, dean for campus life, and Oliver, dean for student development.

"Welcome Week is a great tradition at Baylor," Sloan said. "It's very important to us that our students have a proper welcome, and Dub and Martha Lou have been a rich part of doing that. We are honored and grateful that Gary has honored them in this way."

Heavin's gift to the Immortal Ten fund puts the long-awaited memorial closer to an official groundbreaking. The Immortal Ten were members of the Baylor basketball team who were killed in a bus-train collision on Jan. 23, 1927, while en route to Austin for a game against the University of Texas. Only 12 of the 22 passengers survived the crash at a fog-shrouded railroad crossing near Round Rock, making it one of the worst athletic tragedies in the country's history.

"It's a story that has inspired the Baylor family for almost three-quarters of a century," Sloan said. "It was pledged that when those students lost their lives their story would not be forgotten. Our students have raised a tremendous amount of money for a memorial statue to the Immortal Ten on our campus, and your gift has helped us get where we need to be."

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