By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — Local officials gathered April 6 at the Hilton in Clifton Park on New York State’s Missing Persons Day to announce a partnership with Fireball Run Adventure Travel Series, a global television adventure series which doubles as a missing children awareness campaign.
Fireball Run will be passing through Clifton Park and Ballston Spa September 29 and 30, bringing with it a potential economic boost and a promising jump-start to the region’s efforts to increase tourism. Two local businesses will be representing the region in the eight day cross country journey.
Since its founding, Fireball Run has been committed to helping find America’s missing children by raising awareness to The Race to Recover America’s Children. Each of the 40 participating teams will be assigned a missing child by the Child Rescue Network and receive 1,000 flyers featuring the missing child to distribute over the course of their 2,000 mile journey. According to Fireball Run founder J. Sanchez, Fireball Run’s awareness efforts have aided in the recovery of 47 missing children since it began 10 years ago.
Sanchez recalled filling up at a gas station along the road one day when a fast-walking business woman on her way back to her car came to a halt, eyes glued to the missing child poster stuck to his car window. She burst into tears and he said the two hugged for 10 minutes. Her daughter had gone missing and was later found.
He recalled another time when the Fireball Run team was distributing flyers in Georgia when a social worker on vacation from Washington picked up a flyer and recognized the face on the page.
“We’re not the ones finding missing children. We’re a catalyst,” Sanchez said.
Kevin Kovel of Halfmoon’s Adirondack Basement Systems and John Bove of Mechanicville’s G.A. Bove Fuel will be representing the region in the race. Sanchez said it’s “almost impossible” to get on a Fireball Run team, citing their 178 person wait-list.
Kovel has been assigned to team 23 which will be distributing posters of Brittany Barnoski, a runaway who was last seen March 3, 2015. Barnoski would be 16 years old now, is five foot five inches tall, black, about 170 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. Bove will be representing team 82 which has been assigned Samantha Kibalo who went missing Feb 3, 2001. Kibalo would be 17 years old today.
Inspired by the 1981 film Cannonball Run and the first celebrity NASCAR driver, Fireball Roberts, Fireball Run is an eight day “adventurally” over 2,000 miles with 40 teams competing by solving trivia questions, visiting local historical sites and meeting prominent people in each region. Past contestants have had the chance to hold Mark Twain’s pen and Pocahontas’s bible while others were able to drive the Lunar Rover model still on earth. The grand prize — bragging rights and a plastic road sign.
Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett said the town is “excited to host a dynamic show with a very meaningful mission of helping families across the nation.”
Ballston Spa Mayor John Ramono added “We’re going to roll out the red carpet” for Fireball Run.
Pete Bardunias, President and CEO of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga Commerce, played an instrumental role in bringing Fireball Run to southern Saratoga County. Noting the region has often been considered “flyover country, often overlooked by travelers in their quest to reach more well-known locales,” Bardunias said, “This is our chance to show people what they’ve been missing!”
The tenth season will consist of 26 22-minute episodes. Two of those episodes are expected to take place in Clifton Park and Ballston Lake. Sanchez estimated the show would infuse about $250,000 into the local economy each day it was in town.
Bardunias said he was “sworn to secrecy” regarding which historic places the Fireball Run crew might consider visiting in the fall. “They’re uncovering things we didn’t even know about. There will be some really neat revelations in September. Stay tuned,” he added.