BLANDFORD, Mass. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS) – Some rural and hill town children aren’t satisfied with playing Pokemon Go. Instead, they prefer to race pigeons.
The sport of pigeon racing is an international one, and local kids from the Pioneer Valley have gotten into it in part because of the Northwest Junior Flyers Group, a Pioneer Valley-based group created by Belchertown native Tim Tessier that works with children to get them interested in the sport. Now, children from Blandford, Russell, Belchertown, Cummington and elsewhere are becoming involved in the activity.
“We were at the Cummington fair and we sent pigeons with notes out and then Tim sent the notes back to us,” Chloe Govani, 12, from Blandford, said.
Govani said that the pigeons flew back to Tessier’s home, which is where he retrieved the notes and sent them to her and her
“That’s when we were hooked,” she said.
Now, she and her two friends, Nicole Hannigan and Laine Gardner, both 12, are raising seven pigeons in a coop at Govani’s parent’s home in Blandford, getting the birds ready to learn to fly. The trio was provided birds, a pigeon coop and bird seed from the Northwest Junior Flyers free-of-charge. The coop is one of 30 that Tessier has given kids, and the birds are among the hundreds he said he has given, as well.
Zackery Zawalski, who is 11 and from Belchertown, is the Northwest Junior Flyers president and ambassador, and said he was drawn to pigeon racing because of the prestige pigeons appear to have.
“We came to pigeon racing because of the history and the amazing adapting abilities of the bird,” Zawalski said.
Zawalski readily rattled off facts and figures about the birds, from how long they can live–20 years domesticated–to how fast they can fly–over 40 MPH–and showed just how passionate junior participants can become in the sport. He even gave a presentation about the birds, complete with posters.
Zawalski and his parents Jen and Jeff and his sister JenaRose, have a total of 33 pigeons at their home in Belchertown. His
parents enjoy the sport not just because of the activity but also because of what it teaches their son and daughter.
“I love how it teaches them responsibility and shows kids the stages of life,” Jen Zawalski said.
Of course, it isn’t all passion and ease for the children.
“They all have trouble letting them go to fly,” Tessier said. “That’s the biggest thing with the kids, they don’t want to lose them. But when they do let them fly and they come back it’s amazing.”
In order to remain solvent, the Northwest Junior Flyers raises funds through an annual auction. This past year the top bird went for $250, and that money was used to purchase supplies and vaccines for the pigeon.
That cost is small though, compared to what some other pigeons can go for. The highest priced homing pigeon, according to the American Racing Pigeon Union, has sold for $228,000, and race winners can win upwards of $500,000 on a single race.
The races can take place over hundreds of miles, whether from Albany to the Pioneer Valley or California to Massachusetts. The birds are timed and the fastest home wins.
And this group has already started raising some strong competitors. Zackery Zawalski proudly proclaimed that his bird recently placed 17th out of 200 others in a race.
“And he was the smallest one there,” Zawalski proudly proclaimed.
Copyright 2016 THE WESTFIELD NEWS