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Fireworks highlight Celebrate America

The Fourth of July came early to the Camellia City this year, and proved to be a star-spangled success.

The Second Annual "Celebrate America" brought fun for the entire family to GHS Tiger Stadium last Saturday night – and everyone stayed dry.

"I thought everything went great; the weather held out. It actually got a little cooler, and was really nice outside, weather-wise," Carol Lee, director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce, said on Monday morning. Last weekend's event was sponsored by the GACOC and a number of area businesses.

"This [event] is still a learning experience for us, but we are pleased with how things are developing. We had a good crowd and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. We estimate we had about 1,500 people there for the fireworks – the stands were packed," Lee said.

The Kandu Band provided Saturday night's crowd with plenty of pop hits from the past, along with some patriotic tunes appropriate to the occasion.

"Having a live band this year was a real plus, I think. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from that," Lee said.

Mouth-watering smells wafted across the upper parking lot that night, where activities and concessions awaited the crowds. The GHS Band Boosters and Athletic Club provided supper fare, including roasted corn, chicken leg quarters, barbecue sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs, along with soft drinks.

"Kenny Harrell of the Band Boosters told me they were very pleased with how things went. I know there was still a long line of people waiting to buy food, even after the fireworks show was over," Lee said.

In addition to a moonwalk and dunking booth, several carnival games gave youngsters a chance to win fun prizes featuring a patriotic theme, everything from sparkling star goggles to small stars-and-stripes-covered balls.

Amanda Phillips, director of the local YMCA, assisted children who were looking for a "big catch" at the fishing booth Saturday night.

"Feel that tug on your line? Ooh, you've got a big one, honey, pull hard," Phillips encouraged one little fisherman.

Tyler Owens, age 15 months, and 16-month-old Alissa Powell, enjoyed sharing their patriotic toys, as their families watched the exciting hula hoop contest emceed by Ralph Stacy.

De Martin, who was the sole boy to take home a prize in that contest, glowed with pride at his accomplishment.

He later described the night as "the bestest ever."

"De is really feeling good about this. He is having a great time," his grandmother, Ramona Martin, said with a grin.

Among those who stayed cool in the dunking booth, were Dr. Kathy Murphy, principal of Greenville High, her daughter, Connor Murphy-White, and Bryan Paulk, of Fort Dale Academy.

"You know, you could throw a lot better if you were wearing an Auburn hat," Murphy good-naturedly taunted one of the pitchers, before taking yet another plunge into the chilly waters.

The crowded stands were filled with folks craning their necks to see the 9 p.m. fireworks spectacular. The show could be seen for miles, and was heard as far away as Honoraville.

This year "Celebrate America" was held in the upper parking lot, as opposed to its site on the football field last year. Lee and her fellow organizers are pleased with the outcome.

"Access was certainly easier this time. We have room to grow with the event in the upper parking lot. Our police and fire fighter presence was so helpful; we couldn't have done it without them," Lee said.

Lee hopes to see even bigger and better things for next year's event.

"We are learning from each event, finding out what people like and dislike. We want to see it grow," she said.