The 12th World Freefall Convention is over, and things weren't what they used to be in years past, when thousands of skydivers from all over the world headed for Quincy, Illinois, each August for the biggest skydiving event in the world. This year the numbers were down and security was up, and "Tent City" had noticeably fewer inhabitants and numbers of vendors. Last year the WFFC attracted 5,700 skydivers and their friends and families. This year’s attendance was estimated to be less than 3,000.
Skydivers and WFFC officials blamed the decline in participants on the poor economy and the high police presence at the airport in response to underage drinking, nudity and a late-night confrontation with security at a Rave party last year. Many locals and non-skydivers, who attended the convention over the past years were part of these "problems".
This year the security team had increased its numbers of police officers who were patrolling Tent City. They "were all over the place", as some skydivers noted, "even between the tents with their drug sniffing dogs". 13 arrests were made during the convention [e.g. for fighting, underage drinking, pot, and exposure of too much flesh].
The security issue reached a boiling point early Friday morning when a skydiver was arrested for resisting arrest. According to witnesses he was carrying a bare-breasted woman piggy-back when they were approached by police officers. Witnesses also said the officers used unnecessary force on the man. The skydiver had intervened between the officer and the woman, and ultimately he was arrested for interfering or obstructing justice. Martini Shot Films, which is contracted by the WFFC to shoot footage, filmed part of the incident which is shown on the WFFC's website.
Many skydivers wrote on the rec.skydiving newsgroup and in the WFFC’s website forum that this was their last convention, at least at Quincy. Some complained about the "police brutality" and too many rules, and said local law enforcement had been out of line. They now expect Don Kirlin, Organizer of the convention, to move the event elsewhere.
Others who were there enjoyed the more laid-back and reserved atmosphere of the event, and lots of great skydives in wonderful weather. People liked the fact that they never had to wait longer than 15-20 minutes to get on a plane, and that the place was not so crowed and loud as in former years...especially at night. But they all, those who complained and those who didn't, did mention that they would have liked to jump "the jet"...but the Boing 727 jet wasn't there this year either!
So could this be the final year for the World Free Fall Convention in Quincy? Don Kirlin said during a "town meeting" at Tent City a day after the incident with the police that five other communities are courting the WFFC to move. Kirlin said he’s exploring the possibilities, though he also wants to talk with Quincy officials about staying.
If the convention doesn't come back to Quincy, it will have an economic impact. Each year the WFFC pumped lots of money into the city's economy. The city of Quincy is short in tax revenue as a local newspaper reported, so it's really a "great time" to be running the WFFC out of town by not letting the skydivers enjoy their freedom and their fun in their own way during a summer vacation that so many were looking forward to.
The WFFC was all about making great skydives and having fun with friends from around the world. It was about stories that attendees would bring home about all the fun they had. Stories about awesome aircraft, large formations, and unforgettable helicopter rides. Stories about free beer, bands and parties, crazed bon-fire stunts and an overall atmosphere of "anything goes". Stories about Tent City where skydivers who never met before camped together and shared their stories and their life for nine wonderful days.
So who killed the Magic of Quincy?
Brian D., a writer on the rec.skydiving newsgroup, puts it to a point. He wrote: "The problem with all this? Growth! An event can only get so big, and get so much publicity, and then people begin to have a problem with the fun. Many of those outside the fence like to control what activities occur on the inside. Open the gate, and its all over. Publicity from a few negative incidents and your event goes from a private closed-door venue to a public fair. Publicity inside the WFFC should have been treated like tours of Air Force One, but instead it has become THE public fair."
Brian continues: "We have now lost much of the stories that were taken home -the ones that created the growth. Take away the stories and the history and you have a great boogie. This year was a great boogie BUT, it was not the World Freefall Convention! Not the one everyone looks forward to all year. Not the one people take out home-equity credit for. Just one of those fun boogies that probably won't happen next year."
Whatever will happen to the WFFC and Quincy, as somebody put it, "It won't be the end of the world. It will be the end of an era!"