Balloonist bring on the competition

This year's Macomb Balloon Rally has almost 30 hot air balloons.

If you drive past Vince Grady Field on the Western Illinois University campus this weekend you'll notice a sport being played.

No, you won't see softball or soccer players on the field but if you look above it you'll see balloonists in Macomb's Balloon Rally.

It's not your average sport, but ballooning can be competitive.

"We do fly a competition where the balloonmeister decides where targets are, how they're placed, what type of event we're going to have," Al Reusch, co-chair on Macomb's Balloon Rally said. "The object is to navigate your balloon closest to the middle."

"Drop a bag of grass seed or it could be any number of things that we have, any small object with a streamer on it into the center of the X and that would give them a perfect score but sometimes they're outside and they don't make it," Bob Corey, balloonmeister, said. "That's how we judge a competition, we measure for each baggie that's dropped."

First place winner at the Macomb Balloon Rally gets $900 dollars. But before you take flight and claim your prize you better have a pilot's license.

"The FAA governs over us just like they do airplanes, we have the same paperwork that they have to do, we have to do," Reusch said.

Reusch knows all about the requirements to become a balloonist because he and his wife Evie helped start the rally.

"Twenty-six years ago this part of the state had never seen a hot air balloon," Reusch said. "The person that really helped us get going was from Chicago area. He came down, saw a hot air balloon and we decided to make an attempt so we held it out by the high school and we had about 15 balloons."

Now the rally has almost 30 balloons for you to see.

"You get a chance to come out and walk around the balloons, meets the pilots, talk to the pilots, see the balloons," Reusch said. "Bring the kids, it doesn't cost a dime."

And that's a deal that isn't filled with hot air.