Underwater poker match will assist boys go on diving adventures


A group of adventurers held an annual poker tournament to raise money for a charity on Saturday night.

It wasn't your average Texas Hold 'em poker night.

Scuba Adventure in Jefferson City is hosting the underwater tournament at the Jefferson City YMCA. The game is designed to benefit Diving with Disabilities (also known as Dive with a Cop).

The charity offers a once in a lifetime experience to people who normally don't get a chance to breathe underwater. If the client's skills allow, they learn what it feels like to be weightless underwater.

Law enforcement officers and other participants from all walks of life take part in the fundraiser.

This year, the event was designed to raise funds to send 14-year-old Declan Johnson on an ocean adventure at CoCo View, a dive resort in Honduras.

Declan, who has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy and has to use a wheelchair to get around, said he has been diving with Scuba Adventure in Jefferson City for about five years.

"It gives me a little more freedom than on land," said Declan. "It definitely takes work."

Declan said he also enjoys the camaraderie that comes with being in the pool with his teachers and coaches.

"I'm making some good progress," he said. "I've learned things you need to know about diving."

Chris Heitman, Maries County sheriff who owns the dive shop, said about 25 people of all ages had signed up for the underwater poker tournament on Saturday night.

It costs about $ 2,100 for each person to fly to Honduras, have the experience, and return, Heitman said. And the goal is to take Declan and his mom, Amanda Johnson, with them for the next January experience.

With luck, the fundraiser would raise about $ 1,000, so there would be more fundraisers pending, Heitman said.

He added that Declan was a certified diver but he has never been to the sea. So he's excited for the boy's experience.

"Declan loves being in the water," said Amanda Johnson. "We did 'Dive With a Cop' five years ago. Declan was really fond of Chris. He just loves being in the water."

Bo Peters said he had realistic expectations for his underwater play skills – he was one of the first contestants to be eliminated last year.

"My game of Texas Hold'em wasn't very good," said Peters. "It's okay because it's a good thing."

The entire event is "cool," said Greg Mihalevich, a dive shop service technician and one of the dealers on Saturday night.

"Declan is a decent kid. And I like to be with other divers and have fun," said Mihalevich.

Declan put on his scuba gear and started swimming around the pool with a supervisor at the YMCA, where the tournament was being held on Saturday.

He thought he might get some hands of the players, Declan said.

And he said he was excited for the chance to begin the diving adventure.

"It's supposed to be this really cool diving experience," he said.