By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
The Squirrel Bowl, a yearly squirrel hunt for all ages that raises funds for the local Project Third Day charity along with several veteran support groups, was held last weekend at the Macoupin County Fairgrounds.
The event got underway the evening of Feb. 2 with team registrations, vendor celebrations, raffles, live musical entertainment courtesy of Lick Creek and a silent auction.
Feb. 3 was the hunt, followed by an awards’ ceremony where visitors were treated to a catered meal while hearing from guest speakers and Jerod Cottingham about updates related to Project Third Day. The event closed with live music by Hunter Sharp and Bo Smith.
An amount of $1,400 was raised at the inaugural Squirrel Bowl nine years ago. In 2023, the total grossed over $175,000. According to Cottingham, a “very passionate” hunter that brainstormed the idea of hosting a tournament to promote hunting roots while giving the community something to do outdoors during the winter, the overall amount is expected to be even more this year once the final funds are totaled. Furthermore, the Squirrel Bowl had already provided Project Third Day with nearly $300,000 in funding before the 2024 rendition kicked off.
A record total of 260 teams participated this year and the turnout was so large that the Squirrel Bowl committee needed to rent a 40 x 60 heated tent to place outside of the W.W. Bates building for overflow. More than 1,000 people paid attendance on opening night and 800-plus returned on Saturday for the ceremony and meal.
“We had no idea this event would take off to this magnitude,” Cottingham said. “It has become very well-known with people travelling long distances to attend. The event itself is great, but it’s the charity work that the people with Project Third Day and all the chapters that keep people coming back because they know they are helping an amazing cause. The squirrel hunt is secondary to the event itself due to generosity of so many great people.”
Project Third Day is a local 501c3 charity which helps children in need by providing food bags, clothing, bedding, hygiene products and has even gone as far as providing bicycles, washers and dryers that are placed at schools. All of this is done by working directly with the school districts discreetly to keep the children’s identities undisclosed.
The Military groups the Squirrel Bowl supports are HOOAH Deer Hunt for Heroes, SOWW (Special Operations Wounded Warriors), and HAVA (Honored American Veterans Afield). These groups provide hunting and many other outdoor activities and experiences to aid in the healing process for disabled veterans.
“The amount of gratitude we receive far exceeds anything I could ever have imagined,” Cottingham said. “We have so much great support, and received around $65K in just sponsorships alone before the event even began. Our live and silent auction generates an amazing amount of money during the event as well. It takes a lot of money to put on an event of this magnitude, but due to so many donations, we should be able to provide significant funding to these groups. We will disclose those amounts after we have our check presentation party with our committee and recipients on the first weekend of March.”
The theme of this year’s ceremony was to appreciate all of the cherished connections that had been established through the Squirrel Bowl.
“One example of that would be the tremendous close friendships we have kindled within our committee,” Cottingham said. “They have become some of my best friends.”
Cottingham has a lot of relationships with veterans, including one of his friends that travelled all the way to Carlinville from the state of Maryland to attend the event.
Cottingham, who is also the head coach of the local Carlinville Clay Busters trapshooting team, said that he was “most proud of the Squirrel Bowl giving himself and many others the desire and passion to do good and be better humans.”
Though Cottingham treasured everything that occurred over a highly-successful weekend, his favorite moment was when he, alongside HOOAH members, confirmed an inaugural Macoupin County turkey hunt that would be held this April in memory of Seth Egelhoff, a young man who recently lost his life in a tragic accident. Seth’s family and friends were also on stage to help make the touching announcement.
“It’s such a great feeling to help others and that feeling is contagious and can be addictive,” Cottingham added. “This is something that this world needs more of.”