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Water-ski tournament honors slain girl

Clark Converse's hopes were to take the memory of a horrible tragedy and channel it into something positive.

The tragedy was the murder of his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Jennifer Renee Odom, in February. Odom was abducted near her home in St. Joseph and found murdered in Hernando County six days later. The case has not been solved.

Converse's hopes produced the Jennifer Odom Memorial Barefoot Jamboree, a water-skiing tournament held over the weekend at Clear Lake at Saint Leo College.

And his wishes were met in the achievement of Jennifer Harris. The 13-year-old girl was one of Jennifer Odom's best friends and a teammate in barefoot water-skiing.

In the tournament named after her friend, Harris set a national record. She scored 7.3 points in the junior girls' slalom, breaking the record by 1.3 points.

Harris was joined in record-setting by Brian Fuchs, who broke his own world record by scoring 20.6 points in men's slalom. Jennifer Calleri tied her world record in women's slalom with 16 points.

Spectators also were treated to an exhibition by the MacDill Air Force Base Skydiving Team, which did landings on water and land.

Highlighting performances by world-class skiers were the acrobatics of "Banana George" Blair, a 78-year-old Winter Haven resident known as the world ambassador of water-skiing who also stars in a car protectant commercial.

Blair knew Odom and all the skiers well. A picture of him hugging Odom and Harris was posted on the scoreboard at the tournament. He was saddened by the tragedy, he said.

"I've got four daughters and four grandsons, so I know how I'd feel," he said. "Too often we let things like this slide by. The family was devastated by this, the community was overwhelmed. It's good to see neighbors and friends coming out here, good to see that they care."

Blair also lauded the scholarship established in Odom's name that will be funded by proceeds from raffles and sales of wares such as a memorial T-shirt with Odom's picture on it.

Remaining proceeds were marked for Community Child Watch and the Missing Children's Help Center. But Converse said Sunday the turnout did not meet expectations, despite free admission and parking.

"It was okay. But I was a little disappointed," he said. "You give people something for nothing, and you hope they'll come out and see what we're doing here."

Many spectators came late and missed the portions of the show in which skiers did tricks, Converse said.

"I'm tickled to death that people came. I just wish they could have been able to see more," he said.