Kids show patriotic pride

TORONTO – DeeDee Elliott had her work cut out for her Saturday morning, keeping daughter Sara, 5, on course during Toronto’s Gem City Day “Anything on Wheels Kids and Pets Patriotic Parade.”

Young Sara, as it turns out, has a propensity for driving fast and erratically in her bright pink battery-powered coupe while little brother Eli, 2, calmly sucked on his binkie in the passenger seat.

“God help you when she gets her license,” one bystander laughed as Sara, busy looking back at her mom trotting along behind her, narrowly missed the curb.

“She does fishtails and everything in this thing,” DeeDee Elliott said, shaking her head after her daughter crossed the finish line. “She’s not afraid of speed.”

Not even the high temperatures and double-digit humidity could dim the enthusiasm of the participants, though there were some who questioned whether the race was really meant to tire the youngsters out a bit.

“Unfortunately, it got me pooped, too, because she’s such a wild driver,” Elliott said.

Shai McCoy, Toronto, was there to cheer on 4-year-old Ryder Unkefer, who donned a white beard and a red, white and blue top hat and pedalled around the block on a bike decoarated with balloons and a lot of tinsel.

“He couldn’t wait for that bike to be ready, with his beard and his hat and the balloons,” she said. “It’s nice for the kids to get something like this to do.”

Haylee McFadden, 9, and her cousin, 20-year-old Charlyn Ward, crafted a Liberty Bell out of paper mache and pulled it on a wagon.

“We had a lot of fun making the bell,” an excited Ward said. “I hadn’t made paper mache since something like the 5th grade, so it was definitely something to remember, and (doing it) with my little partner in crime here was great.”

Honey Kuntz of Toronto said it was the fifth Gem City race for her son, Gage, now 5. Little brother Gavin, 3, was with him this year.

“They decorate their bikes, with help,” she said.

Later in the day, 7-year-old Marty Luvato of Steubenville successfully defended his title in the ages 4-7 watermelon eating contest, a messy affair since no hands were allowed. He also placed first in 2012.

“Marty came in with a strategy this year,” his mother, Lindsey, said. “I don’t really know what it was, but he looked like he had a strategy!”

His grandmother, Mary Beth Wilson of Wintersville, figures Marty’s first place finish has a little to do with persistence and a lot to do with nature.

“He won last year and he didn’t have any teeth,” she said. “He has teeth this year.”

As much fun as youngsters like MacKenna McFadden, 12, of Toronto, and Callie Anderson, 7, of Lacey, Wash., had burying their faces in the sticky watermelon, the adults who gathered around the table cheering them on “enjoyed it, probably more than the kids do. Or as much,” Wilson said.

As he prepared for the annual Turtle Race at Newburg Landing, Justin Poole, a member of Focus in Toronto, said from his perspective, “I would say this was the largest consistent turnout of people staying all day.”

“People come back every year,” he added. “This has been going on for years. We’re just trying to preserve it and keep the tradition alive. Our organization, Focus in Toronto, took over all these events when other organizations could no longer do them.”

Proceeds from the Turtle Race help fund Toronto’s Festival of the Arts, Christmas parade and Gem City Day, he said.

“We just want to keep community events where families can come and have fun,” he said. “Building community involvement is one of our main goals.”

Others going home with top honors in the family-themed events were Maddie Anderson and her dog; Ryder Unkefer, Anything on Wheels; Marty Luvato, watermelon eating (ages 4-7); Jake Muller, Westerville, watermelon eating (ages 8-12); Aubrey Ratti, Toronto, sidewalk art (ages 4-7); and Kali Corrao, Lake City, Fla., sidewalk art (ages 8-12)