BELLVILLE -- Jimmy Fisher flexed his arms at his side before swinging them upward and out to loosen his should blades. His face was set with sober determination as he pulled on a pair of black gloves and bent over to pick up a six-foot Christmas tree. Spectators cheered "Go Jimmy!" from the sidelines.

His first throw was impressive. The tree flew through the air, landing 10 feet away. His second throw came up a bit short at 9 feet, 7 inches.

Eager to make the most of his last toss, Fisher shuffled backwards, then ran towards the boundary line and hurled with all his might. The tree landed with a bounce as volunteers rushed forward to measure its flight.

"10 feet, 9 inches," came the announcement. The crowd cheered. 

The area's first Christmas Tree Toss fundraiser took place Saturday afternoon The Legacy located at 5384 Possum Run Road.

The event was sponsored by the Mansfield chapter of Civitan International, with proceeds benefitting Special Olympics of Richland County, the Clear Fork Unstoppables and the Mansfield Challenger League. All three organizations offer athletics programs for young people with special needs.

Fisher is just one of the local individuals to benefit from these programs. A four-sport athlete, he plays basketball, volleyball, softball and track for the Richland County Bears Special Olympics team. Basketball is his favorite.

Being part of a sports team is a source of pride for Fisher, who enjoys the opportunity to get out and make new friends.

"We're all about inclusion, keeping everybody together, making sure they have the same opportunities," said Laura Roberts, who helps coach the Unstoppables alongside her wife Lindsay, the program's head coach.

The couple has two sons, 5-year-old Ledger and 9-year-old Blaze. Both have autism spectrum disorder.

Members of the Mansfield Civitan Club got the idea for the fundraiser from the Westerville Civitan club, which just held its second tree toss.

"It's a new, unique, quirky type of event," said Ken Adkins, a member of the Westerville Civitan club who volunteered to help with the inaugural event. "Young people are always looking for something new to do."

Participants paid $20 for three chances to toss a 20-pound Christmas tree. Awards were presented for the farthest throws in men's, women's and children's categories.  

Dakota Maxwell took first place in the adult male category with a best toss of 27 feet, 5 inches. Michael Gerich followed with 26 feet, 7 inches. Elijah Bishop earned third with 23 feet, 8 inches.

In the women's competition, Michele Giess had the farthest throw with 17 feet, 6 inches. A tie breaker toss landed Lindsay Roberts in second place with 13 feet, 5 inches. Whitney Schroeder took third with 12 feet, 6 inches.

Lindey Mariast was the sole participant in the 12 to 17 age group, with a best throw of 7 feet, 3 inches.

The Westerville event has had particular appeal to the fraternities at nearby Otterbein University. This year's winner in the men's category was Otterbein football player, who threw the tree an astounding 34 feet.

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