Buckmasters hunt 'awesome' for Thome


01/12/02


L ife for the Thome family changed dramatically last June when 15-year-old Brandon Thome dived into an above-ground swimming pool.


Brandon, the nephew of Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome, suffered a spinal cord injury that left him in a wheelchair.

"When something like that happens, it affects you and your family," said Jim last week at the Buckmasters Classic at Sedgefield Plantation near Safford. "The one thing we do have going for us is his age. He really hasn't developed into his body. I think spinal cord research is really coming on strong. You just hope and pray."

When Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters founder and CEO, learned of Brandon's accident, he got in touch with Jim, an avid bowhunter, and invited the family to the Classic, which changed formats this year to pair celebrities (Jeff Foxworthy, Irlene Mandrell and Ward Burton) with disablecritically ill children and young adults for three days of hunting at the 13,000-acre plantation owned by the Hinton family.

"We gave (the trip to the Classic) to him for Christmas and he loved it," Jim said. "It's really a neat deal."

It wasn't the first time Jim had thrilled his nephew during Brandon's rehabilitation.

"I was up at rehab center and he came to visit me before the game with the White Sox," Brandon recalled. "Before he left, I asked if he would hit a home run for me. He said he would see what he could do and he hit one.

"The next day, he came by with (Indians pitcher) Bob Wickman and I asked him, 'Would you hit two for me tonight?' He said, 'I don't know, but I'll see what I can do.' Sure enough, he hit two that night. I went to the clubhouse after the game and he got one of the balls for me. It was awesome."

Brandon's dad, Randy, said it was obvious the two-homer feat was a big deal to Jim as well.

"He hit the second one in the eighth inning," Randy said. "Jim had his hand up when he came around third base and he looked up at Brandon. It was a pretty touching moment."

Jim and Randy had grown up in the outdoors near Peoria, Ill., tutored by their dad, Chuck. Brandon shares their enthusiasm for hunting, but he needed a little help to continue one of his favorite endeavors.

David Sullivan, head of Buckmasters American Deer Foundation Disabled Hunter Services, went to work on outfitting Brandon.

"I got in touch with Blackberry Technologies in Pennsylvania. They make several different products for people with disabilities," Sullivan said. "They specially built one for what we thought Brandon's mobility would be.

"It's a very precision-machined product. It's fully adjustable for windage and elevation and it also has a recoil absorber built in. Brandon's has a trigger activator. It has an electric solenoid that you bolt onto the trigger guard. The mechanism itself has a safety switch that activates and deactivates the electronics. So what we do when we get them in a hunting where there's not any danger of shooting, we move the safety off on the rifle and cut the safety on on the electronics."

Brandon, who can move his arms but not his hands, can maneuver the gun rest left and right or up and down. Other disabled hunters have much less mobility.

"We have a lot of people who can't move anything from the chin down who can actually control the gun and shoot it with just their mouth," said Sullivan, whose program will hold 80 events and help 400 disabled or ill hunters by the end of the season. "Our disabled program reaches out to everyone from people with heart trouble to amputees to cancer victims."

Brandon's apparatus obviously worked like a charm.

"It's a challenge, but I like a challenge," said the upbeat teen-ager. "Buckmasters got me set up with a nice system that's got me back to almost where I used to be. It's not always going to be the same, but it's real close.

"All you need is a deer in your sights and the rest is taken care of."

On the second afternoon of the hunt, Brandon made a tough shot for any hunter. He bagged a nice eight-point on a shot of more than 200 yards.

"I think the whole thing about this week is he has been still able to do something that he loves because of Buckmasters," Jim said.

Bushman couldn't have been happier with the results.

"Brandon made a great shot on the eight-point," Bushman said. "It was a great family event and we made a dream come true for him. It was a great Christmas present."

"It was awesome," was all Brandon could say.


Sweet redemption :

When kangaroo court was held Thursday at Sedgefield, 16-year-old Anthony Brannon of Union, S.C., was up before judge Jimmy Hinton Jr.

The hunters who had fired and missed during the hunt were subject to penalties of a cut shirttail if they couldn't convince the judge otherwise.

Brannon, even with Gov. Don Siegelman pleading his case, could not overcome the evidence filmed by the Buckmasters video crew.

Brannon, who is battling bladder cancer, redeemed himself when shot the biggest buck of the event, a nice 10-point.

"I don't care what the cameraman said," said Brannon, adamantly. "I hit that first deer. My guide just didn't find it. They should have cut his shirttail."

That's exactly what happened on the next case before Hinton. Andrew Webb, a 14-year-old from Brogue, Penn., who is fighting leukemia, freely admitted to missing a monster of an eight-point and threw himself on the mercy of the court.

"Were you nervous," queried the judge.

"Yes sir, and they made me wait too long to take the shot," Webb answered.

"So you're blaming it on your guide and the cameraman," asked Hinton.

"Yes, sir," Webb said.

"Well, I'm inclined to agree with you," Hinton ruled, ordering Bushman to slice the shirttail of guide Robert Almon, much to Webb's delight.

"Everybody loves the kanga roo court, especially the kids," Hinton said. "We have everybody sign their shirttails and we put them on the wall at the camp."

Another function of the court is to make sure everyone who bags his or her first buck to receive the ceremonial face-painting.

Despite misgivings, Man drell's daughter, Vanessa, got smeared with deer blood after takng her first buck, a nine-point.

"I'll tell you how much these kids get into it," Bushman said Thursday. "Brandon Thome had to fly home early, so he got us to paint his face last night. You should have seen him smile."


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