Waynesville falls short in playground contest

Despite finishing first in an online contest with more than double the votes of its nearest competitor, Waynesville’s adaptive playground will not be funded by the annual Kiwanis “Legacy of Play” contest.

“Regardless of where it is, folks will be able to use it, and in this case, that’s Mankato,” said Waynesville Parks and Recreation Director Rhett Langston. 

The contest, which ran from May 16 to 31, featured almost 50 entrants from across the country, all competing for $25,000 in free playground equipment from Kiwanis and Landscape Structures Inc. 

“Everyone worked so hard, I thought we had a pretty good shot at it,” Langston said. 

The balloting effort put on by Waynesville drew together thousands of people from across the town, the county, the region and indeed the world — hyperlink data shows votes from Canada, France, Japan and St. Maarten, among other countries. 

The contest also received heavy coverage from local print, radio and television outlets from Sylva to Asheville and nearly everywhere in between. 

A win by Waynesville would have helped fund an adaptive playground that’s already in the works by the town; once the contest started, Waynesville jumped out to a huge lead it never relinquished, and spent most of the two weeks of the contest with more votes than the next two or three other entrants combined. 

A recent N.C. State study claimed that there are at least 1,000 special needs children in Haywood County who could have benefitted from the donation; that number grows tremendously when the families of special needs children are factored in to the equation.

The nearest adaptive playgrounds to Haywood County residents — which allow children with physical and mental challenges to integrate with their non-disabled peers — are hours away. 

Instead, Mankato’s entry, which finished fourth in balloting with 3,061 votes compared to Waynesville’s 6,980 votes, was awarded the prize.

Mankato is a town of 41,000 located in south-central Minnesota not far from the Iowa border. Its proposal was also for an adaptive playground, which is to be built next to an existing special needs facility called a “miracle field.”

Despite being bested by a factor of two in balloting, Mankato’s victory wasn’t an extraordinary occurrence. Last year’s winner — another adaptive playground in the small town of Poplar Bluff, Missouri — finished “fifth or sixth,” according to organizer Subrina Berger. 

After balloting in the contest is completed, Kiwanis interviews the top 10 vote-getters to learn more about their projects.

“We poured our heart into the interview,” Burger said. 

Waynesville’s interview was conducted last week, and went well according to Langston.

It’s not known why Waynesville didn’t prevail, but those involved with the project certainly don’t feel like “losers.”

“I’m sad, but proud at the same time of how we ran our campaign,” said Marti Peithman, one of the organizers of Waynesville’s entry. “We certainly raised awareness of our special needs community. We should be proud of ourselves for running such a well-organized campaign that really got our message out.”

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