WEST ORANGE, NJ - The baseball field behind West Orange High School was the site of a festive Independence Day celebration on July 4 that offered something for everyone. Among the activities included were pony rides, an inflatable slide, and bean bag games.
The event, organized by the West Orange Recreation Department, also featured the 77th Annual "Lefty" Boland Fun Meet, named for William "Lefty" Boland, the longtime Recreation Department director whose career spanned over 35 years. Eighteen different foot races of different lengths and age groups - nine for girls, nine for boys - were held, along with girls' and boys' sack races and a water balloon toss. William Boland, Jr., son of the late recreation department director, helped call each race. Similar races and contests were also held for adults.
The races included some humorous moments, such as the bottoms of sacks turning out to have no bottoms and allowing the wearers' feet to break through and touch the ground. In the four-year-old girls' 40-yard dash, which was won by Ashley Joseph, the girls continued to run for several yards even after crossing the finish line.
Rebka Fried won the Degnan Memorial Trophy for Outstanding Girl in the 11-16 age range, while the equivalent Outstanding Boy award for boys ages 11 to 16, the Mayor's Trophy, went to Tim Van Cauwenberge. Van Cauwenberge also won the 60-yard John McKenna Memorial Race for boys aged 11-12 and the kids' water balloon toss.
Mayor Robert Parisi said that the Independence Day celebration was a nice way to wrap up the holiday weekend, but admitted that there was a down side to Independence Day falling on a Monday, because so many West Orange residents who had gone away for the three-day weekend were returning home late. "Many of them do get back in time for the fireworks," he said.
Linda D'Amato, a program coordinator for the Recreation Department, was still satisfied with the turnout.
"A lot of people went away," she admitted. "But we changed the time of the start, we made it at six o'clock, and that helped a lot."
Children who were less interested in athletics had numerous entertainment options on the field. There were face painters, a juggler, and three balloon sculptors who could make anything from swords and flowers to monkeys and Ariel from The Little Mermaid. The balloon sculptors were extremely popular, as evidenced by the long lines of eager children they generated.
Emily Season, a New York City actress and children's entertainer who was one of the balloon sculptors, thoroughly enjoyed herself as she twisted balloons in magical shapes while wearing a doll-sized hat on her head.
"Everyone's been having a good time," she said. "Everything has been fabulous and fun."
The main attraction, the pop-rock band Mushmouth, got the crowd going with spirited versions of seventies and eighties classic rock songs, with lead singer Bill Gallacher occasionally strutting and dancing for the audience. The band timed the end of their cover of the Who's explosive "Won't Get Fooled Again" with the start of the fireworks, which lit up the skies over West Orange with brilliant colors for over half an hour.