New Orleans last hosted the AAU Junior Olympics in 2005, months before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Members of Ray Jones' Team Beaufort weightlifting squad competed in the meet. After the hurricane hit, Beaufort High School students stopped Jones in the gym and pointed to the sad scenes on a television news broadcast.
That's where we were, they said.
"And it's not there anymore," Jones said.
Some of the more veteran members of Jones' current team competed the last time the Junior Olympics were held in New Orleans. The AAU national meet returns to the Crescent City this year for the first time since 2005.
Team Beaufort will be there, thanks in part to the fundraising effort of today's Palmetto Open Weightlifting Championships at Omni Health and Fitness in Beaufort.
A silent auction and raffle, boosted by donations from businesses throughout the Beaufort area, will raise money so that Team Beaufort can travel to compete in events like the one in New Orleans. The team also plans to travel to Atlanta for the National School Age Championships.
The Palmetto Open, in its second year, is the biggest event Team Beaufort will host all year. Jones is counting on the profits to help send his lifters to compete on the bigger stage.
"There's no reason they'll have to out-of-pocket anything," Jones said.
The local meet also gives friends and parents the opportunity to watch the competition. The team traveled to San Francisco and Hampton Roads, Va., in 2010. Opportunities for spectators were scarce.
Today's meet is open to any registered member of USA Weightlifting. Potential participants can register as late as today at Omni.
Jones attended a meet in Atlanta at the end of January, where he received positive feedback from those involved with CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program. CrossFit has a local program and Jones thinks some athletes from the program might end up at Omni today.
"A lot of movements they do are like Olympic lifts," Jones said. "It was a no-brainer that they would start doing competitions."
Jones will have 30 or so of his own lifters competing. They range in age from 6 to 50. He said he hoped for around 60 total competitors -- enough to help drive fundraising but not too many so that the meet lasts well into the night. Teams from throughout the Southeast could make the trip, Jones said, but he won't be sure of the final turnout until today.
"I'm hoping we get a few we don't know about," he said.
2011 PALMETTO OPEN WEIGHTLIFTING CHAMPIONSHIPS
What: Weightlifting meet hosted by Team Beaufort
Who: Open to any registered member of USA Weightlifting
When: Today, 10 a.m.
Where: Omni Health and Fitness, Beaufort
Notes: Admission is free. Raffle tickets will be sold to help fund Team Beaufort's 2011 trips. There also will be concessions and door prizes.