The volunteers supporting the Beast of the East

Photo by Alan Olson Volunteers with the Elm Grove Civics Association staff the concession stand as the Beast of the East showcase begins. Pictured, clockwise from top right, are Joseph Dominquez, Lexi Ricker, Clayton Smith, Ann Ricker and William Hall.

WHEELING — Athletes have come to the Beast of the East tournament for more than three decades, and each year, the same volunteers have been there to greet them.

The Elm Grove Civics Association has been supporting the Beast for its 31-year run, and in some cases, the same volunteers have been coming back since its inception. Now sporting canes, a few volunteers bring the same service they brought in the 1980s, the y just deliver it a little more slowly.

“It’s a matter of community pride,” trustee Ann Ricker said. “Some of these guys have been here 31 years. They’re in their 80s. One of them came in this morning, he’s walking with a cane, but by God, he’s here.”

The association supports the Beast each year, providing volunteers to staff the concession stand, as well as providing donations to the tournament itself. What keeps volunteers coming back, Ricker said, is the consistently positive community response they get.

“We’ve never had a bad response,” she said. “They like the Wheeling area, and the surrounding areas, because the people are so very nice.”

Ricker said she frequently strikes up conversations with visitors who come from far and wide, and she particularly enjoys walking past rows of visiting cars and seeing how varied the license plates can be.

Lexi Ricker, secretary for the association, said the process of preparing to welcome the Beast of the East takes months, often starting in January, and includes acquiring a wide variety of permits.

“We started prepping food, number counts from previous years, permits for fireworks,” she said.

Lexi Ricker went on to say that voluntarism among younger people is very limited, and asks people to get involved. The civics association counts around 140 members, with 20 or so attending regular meetings.

President William Hall is only in his second year of volunteering and said each year is a learning experience.

“Last year was a big event for me, learning how the prep work went, and even this year, without Lexi and the rest of them, I’d be totally lost,” Hall said. “They’re my support team, and this place is amazing. What we do for the community is amazing. The Beast has welcomed us every year, and I love it. … With volunteer work, you’re giving back, and that just makes me feel great.”

“My grandpap, before he passed away was very active, so I’ve been coming here since I was 8,” Lexi Ricker added. “The environment over here has always just been, they’re ornery as all get out, and they’re hilarious. But we do need more young blood. We’re always looking for some help.”

The Elm Grove Civics Association holds regular bingo nights on Mondays and holds charitable drives throughout the year, including coat drives, shoe drives and Easter basket giveaways.

The Beast of the East showcase began Wednesday and the tournament will conclude Sunday.