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Winds fail to stop the fun at Color the Skies event
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Children and adults alike swarmed the Children’s Hospital helicopter when it landed on the grass during Saturday’s Color the Skies event that drew thousands to Mistlin Park. - photo by GLENN KAHL


• WHAT: Color the Skies
• WHAT: Hot air balloon launch with numerous other activities
• WHEN: Today at 5:30 a.m. with balloon launch from 6:30to 7:30 a.m. wind permitting
• WHERE: Mistlin Sports Park on River Road off jack Tone Road in Ripon

RIPON — The organizers of The Color the Skies Over Ripon hot air balloon event that drew thousands of enthusiasts early Saturday morning didn’t let a 22 mile per hour wind dampen their spirits.

Traffic was heavy at one point making its way into the fields for the two-day experience.   The $5 cost of parking served as a donation to the work of the Children’s Hospital in Merced that serves seriously ill children from  Ripon, Manteca and other central and northern California communities.  

Jessica Coleman and her team have been working all year to put on the “best yet” event with a variety of attractions.  While the wind grounded the balloons Saturday with today being in question,  there were many other scheduled attractions that kept it moving in support of the Central California Children’s Hospital.

It started at 5:30 a.m. in what was a very crisp morning of about 56 degrees with a breakfast of pancakes, eggs and sausage.  The morning also promised a fly-by of three jet planes, the landing of the Children’s Hospital helicopter, a 5K run and a skydiving team that included a Ripon woman, Kim DeMello, making her first jump.

Kimberly Wright of the Wild Wonders and Zoofari, of San Diego, entertained children and adults alike with her exotic  animals from South Africa.  The first specimen she introduced was an African Pigmy hedge hog – a Rafficey, meaning friend.  It was introduced as, “Little Timmy.”

She said the hedge hog knows how to protect itself in the wild from its predators.  It will dive into a big pile of elephant droppings and cover itself in the dung so no predator will touch it. WWW. is the website for a jungle adventure.

There were countless booths that offered everything from foods to dog training.

Ron and Jamie McManis, of McManis Winery, rode in the back seat of two of the Russian fighter jets that flew over the park at 9 a.m.  They said they had their orientation on what buttons not to push – the red ones – and the workings of the ejections seats.  Ron wasn’t scheduled to fly, but a cancellation provided an open seat that he claimed to fly wing-to-wingtip with his wife.

Pilot Troy Myers said the ejection seats of the two passengers were locked off so there was no chance of them unexpectedly leaving the plane after blowing off the canopy.  He said if there had been an emergency he would have just rolled the jet upside down and they would have dropped out with a parachute attached to their seats.

“You can’t believe it – it was so cool!” Jamie said when she and husband Ron got back to the park close to noontime.   They were ready for a pizza lunch, they said.  Friends asked if they suffered from the G-forces when the planes took off or when they rolled in the brief acrobatics above the soccer fields.  Both said their rides were great – no terrible Gs on takeoff or banking over the crowd – and they would do it again.

For Kim DeMello it was her first skydiving adventure – and from 10,000 feet over Ripon.  She said she slept well Friday night but added that she was “really scared” when she sat on the edge of the plane’s open door.

But, when she and her tandem instructor left the aircraft, she said it was like being weightless and not falling at all.  They were the last of five to land on the grass of Mistlin Park – a standup landing that drew friends and family running toward her as she took off her harness.

Shortly after the Central California Children’s Hospital helicopter landed, a crowd of children and adults made their way to the northeast section of the field to see the aircraft.  Its two pilots were quick to explain its operation and answer any questions put to them.

One high school senior, Isela Munoz, 17, told pilot Daniel Marquez that she hoped to fly helicopters in her future.  She asked just what avenues she needed to pursue to realize her dream.  Marquez gave her a brief history of his education and gave her the encouragement she obviously welcomed.

Small children were coming up to the helicopter and sitting on the skids where their parents could take their picture with one of the two pilots.

Organizer Jessica Coleman said next year’s event is in need of volunteers to help put it together.  She said she could use hundreds to help her in the planning and execution phases.  As for today, it is hoped the winds die down so that balloons can be launched from the soccer grounds.  Coleman’s husband Greg is going to be one of the passengers in the Patriots’ jet team that will leave the Byron Airport at about 8:30 a.m. for their second fly-over of the soccer fields.

Jamie McManis will long remember that flight – it only takes about five minutes at jet speed.