Ohio Challenge an ‘overwhelming success’ in Middletown

Visitors were treated to hot-air balloons, skydiving, plane rides, fireworks during event at Smith Park.

You would have thought after spending several days at Smith Park preparing for the Ohio Challenge, David Pearce would have sounded exhausted Monday morning.

Instead, his voice was full of energy.

“An overwhelming success” is how he described the 19th Ohio Challenge held Friday and Saturday in Middletown. “This is an example of what makes Middletown so special. No other event can provide the family experience like this event.”

Pearce, event coordinator, said other cities host hot-air balloons, skydivers, planes and fireworks, but “nobody brings all that together in one place at one time” like Middletown.

While the size of Friday night’s crowd was reduced by rain, Pearce estimated about 14,000 people, similar to the one-day record set in 2021, attended Saturday night. Attendance figures won’t be official for about a week, he said.

Pearce said the more than 20 food vendors appeared to be busy throughout the two-day event.

“They should be very happy,” Pearce said.

The jumbo video board showed live interviews with performers, vendors and spectators on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The board is owned by Trace Fowler and Shaun Spurlock of Epic Image in Hamilton.

Team Fastrax, the Middletown-based professional skydiving team, had cameras attached to their helmets that showed skydivers from the time they entered the plane until they landed, Pearce said. The technology provided a behind-the-scenes look into skydiving, he said.

“It was amazing to see that,” he said of the aerial shots of Middletown.

The skydivers performed American Flag and pyrotechnic jumps, Pearce said. The jumps were narrated by John Hart, chairman of Team Fastrax.

That commentary “brought it to life,” Pearce said. “He captivated the crowd.”

Hart said the technology “worked flawlessly” and gave viewers a unique perspective while on the ground.

“The crowd really enjoyed it,” he said.

Next year, Hart said, he hopes to use the same technology in a hot-air balloon.

Hart said the Ohio Challenge is one of Team Fastrax’s “giving back” performances. He said the pyrotechnic performances typically cost $15,000 to $20,000.

“It’s just great being part of the community,” Hart said when asked about the free performances. “The people in Middletown are awesome people. It means something to perform here.”

Another popular attraction was the tethered balloon rides, Pearce said. He said 225 people rode in the balloons Saturday after the rain cancelled the rides Friday.

Pearce said the Ohio Challenge committee will meet with balloonists and Team Fastrax to determine the best dates for 2023. Until then, he hopes those who attended this year will offer feedback on the Ohio Challenge Facebook page.

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