Local talent part of Quad Cities entertainment

Penny Doyle
of the Aledo Times Record
Backwater Gamblers wows the crowd with three pyramids.

The water skiing team known as Backwater Gamblers Ski Club was founded in 1980 and have been wowing crowds ever since. Performances take place at 6:30 p.m. every Wednesday and Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend on the Rock River in Rock Island. They recently claimed 2022 Central Region Champions in July competition that was held on their “home” waters. 

Some members are from Mercer County area and bordering cities. Among those are Grace and Vaughn of Taylor Ridge, who started in 2017. Their mother, Jodi, used to ski on the team and for the past couple years has been a big part of the show in the skit that is performed. All during the ski show, some have a part of the theme. This year's theme is "Men in Black" and she plays Agent J.

Jodi states that the strongest point of being on the team is the vast differences in ages and everyone learns from that type of commitment and team work. "We are truly family," Jodi says. "I love that i skied with people in past and now they are teaching my kids and those same 1980 teammate’s kids are teaching, too. It has built maturity and responsibility in both my kids. You learn to listen, to respect, and to be prepared. It is a great life building skill for kids. Vaughn has stuck with it and no doubt I bet he is on the water doing jump acts one day." In 2020 when COVID shut down so much, the team was not allowed to do team shows, practices or team competitions. Individual competition was allowed and Grace and her partner Colby placed 5th.

Backwater Gamblers perform their ballet line.

Another one from this area in Kennedy Shillinger of Sherrard. Kennedy has been part of Backwater Gamblers since 2018. She first learned to ski and do pyramids at age 7 when she joined a team from Rockford. When her parents relocated the family to the Quad Cities she was excited she would be able to continue skiing with a new team. Kennedy said, "I enjoy prefabs the most." Prefabs are when the pyramids are formed on the dock and then towed onto the water. "We recently just pulled 5 off the dock at the same time!" said Kennedy. She said that she spends about 5 nights a week either practicing or performing shows. If she’s not at the ski site, she likes to practice on the lake. There are many on the team that have other family members on there also. Kennedy says her sister, Kiera skis and her dad, Jeff, is a spotter for people that fall in the water. He makes sure that everyone gets picked up!

Backwater Gamblers prep for the prefab.
Backwater Gamblers present their prefab.

Among other locals on the team are Kayla Clawson. She and her sister, Kenzie, joined in 2015. Kayla said they practice Monday, Tuesday and Thursday (not to mention at home with mom and dad Saturday and Sunday) mostly in the New Boston area. She said "the best part is being able to ski and try new things and spend time with this group of people that becomes another family to you…and also winning regionals was super awesome." You’ll see them performing in the ballet line which won Best Ballet Line out of entire Central Region tournament held in July and also had the highest scoring act out of their whole show.

Backwater Gamblers was scheduled to go to Nationals in Loves Park, Aug. 12-14. If you haven’t had a chance to go to Rock Island to watch a great family oriented show, do so.  There is no charge to sit in the stands and watch the  jumps off the ramp, bare-footers, swivel skies, pyramids and more. It’s worth the drive.