Nonprofit Swift Eagle hosts bocce ball tournament fundraiser this Sunday
By John O’Neill
Photo special to SneakPEAK
Caption: Into the precision, competitors in last year’s bocce ball tournament measure the distance from
the pallino – a small white ball – to the surrounding bocce balls to determine the winner. The annual tournament benefits the local nonprofit Swift Eagle.
The Swift Eagle Charitable Foundation’s bocce ball tournament will be an all-out affair, with players throwing, rolling or tossing larger and more colorful balls as close to a smaller white ball as possible with the precise aim of raising money for local charity. The fourth annual fundraiser takes place this Sunday, June 24.
The tournament will take place on the old Battle Mountain High School athletics fields in EagleVail, and play is slated to take off at noon. Teams of four will go head-to-head on the short-cut grass of 10 courts, competing for cash prizes awarded to winners and the best-dressed team.
“It’s going to be a fun time -- it’s always a fun time,” says David Haakenson, the founder and president of Swift Eagle, a nonprofit that provides financial aid for local residents in crisis. “Even though the grass is cut short, the ground is pretty uneven. If you think you’re a pro, an odd bounce could take you out.”
It’s no golf tournament or 5k run, says Haakenson who, alongside the event organizers, Craig and Ginny Snowdon, chose bocce ball because it is an event where everyone can partake. The tournament will be conducted in a round- robin format, crowning winners and losers at 11 points, or whoever is ahead at the end of 15 minutes of play.
Following the tournament, there will be an after party in the EagleVail Pavilion that is only steps - or one rogue toss of the bocce ball – away, featuring an Italian dinner, silent auction and entertainment.
“We’ve had perfect weather in the past, and we’re in for more good weather this year.” Haakenson says. In reference, a trusted iPhone weather report puts a mostly sunny day with a high of 73 degrees that Sunday.
Swift Eagle offers swift aid
Before the bocce ballers took to any kind of court, the Swift Eagle Charitable Foundation was born, like many noble causes, out of a dream by Haakenson. Dubbed as a near-spiritual experience by Haakenson, he describes having a dream in the late ‘90s that called him to eliminate the red tape often barricading access to aid, and help people in a swift manner.
“I remember waking up with a strong idea that when people are in distress, they need help swiftly,” Haakenson says. “I told my wife about it, and she backed it immediately telling me it was a great idea.”
Overwhelmed by this idea, Haakenson and his wife held back on the dream until 2004 when Haakenson shared it with a close group of friends and long-time valley locals. They embraced the idea without hesitation, feeling that if they could help just a single person, it would be worth it
While knocking the Denver Nuggets from the 2012 NBA playoffs, the locally loathed Los Angeles Lakers fans may recognize the name of the foundation, Swift Eagle, as the translated nickname to their almighty: former coach, Phil Jackson.
Jackson, the figurehead of the organization, is a childhood best friend to Haakenson and was among the 19 friends that raised Swift Eagle. While playing for the New York Knicks, Jackson volunteered at an Indian reservation in South Dakota teaching basketball to kids. Noting his wingspan, he was given the Lakota nickname “Ounacho Wambli” which translates to “Swift Eagle.” Thus, the name was born.
“I’ve been coming to Vail since the early 1970s,” Jackson says. “Much of my introduction to the area was with friends that lived there. Then, three of my children went to CU (University of Colorado at Boulder) and the connection with Colorado went on from there. When my childhood friend Dave (Haakenson) told me about Swift Eagle, I felt compelled to join. The bocce outing is a great way to share activity, just as Swift Eagle is a great way to share in your community.”
Today, the organization is thriving in its goal of helping folks around the valley get back on their feet after losses of all kinds.
“We help in any way that we can,” Haakenson says. “We help people who lost their jobs, or people who came here for seasonal work and now deal with three to four months of nothing. We help people with medical bills and health issues. We’ll help pay rent, utilities or car payments. Anything that can help.”
And, as promised, the help comes fast. Only last week a man who lost nearly all of his possessions in the Avon condo fire applied for aid. His circumstance: lost in the fire were his dentures inhibiting the basic need to eat. In only short time, Swift Eagle swooped in and provided the man with the necessary funds to purchase new dentures.
A few years ago, a local high school graduate, faced with a birth defect that impeded his ability to walk, had outgrown a brace that allowed him to put one foot in front of another. To celebrate so many years of formal education, the kid had one wish: walk the stage at graduation to receive his diploma. Again, Swift Eagle helped, supplying the kid with a new brace before graduation.
A local affair
Bridging the financial gap so many families face today, Swift Eagle has gotten locals caring about locals in the Valley. Through grassroots fundraising such as the upcoming bocce ball tournament, those seeking aid understand that it comes from a valley-wide effort.
“Recently, my husband was injured and unable to work,” says one of the aid recipients. “Needless to say, we were struggling to get by, and Swift Eagle came to the rescue. I can’t tell you how much it meant to us to have that assistance – I mean being able to pay medical bills and still make out mortgage payment.”
The recipient says that after living in the valley for 27 years, she takes pride in the fact that organizations such as Swift Eagle are so important in taking care of one another.
Haakenson, much like the other 19 members of Swift Eagle, knows what it is to be a Vail local. Sharing a similar story to other long timers in the valley, Haakenson moved out to Vail in 1970 to spend a season skiing and never left. He found roots in the community working at the old outdoor skating rink in Vail, tending golf courses, ski instructing, bartending and owning various businesses. Swift Eagle, he says, is one way that he can give back to the community he has enjoyed for so many years.