MASSILLON, OH —
Leading 16 children in the “Hokey Pokey” on the stage at the Lions Lincoln Theatre is a little like herding cats.
But somehow, on the Fourth of July, Nicole Garlando-Berens managed to do it.
All for the cause of resurrecting one of Massillon’s venerable Fourth of July traditions – the Little Miss Liberty/Little Uncle Sam Pageant.
“It’s been around for a long time, but they didn’t have it last year,” Garlando-Berens said. “We wanted to keep the tradition alive.”
Garlando-Berens, executive director of the non-profit Ananda Center, said the city’s Fourth of July committee approached her about co-sponsoring the pageant this year with the Lincoln Theatre.
She herself was in the pageant as a 4-year-old. “I had fun,” she said.
Parents who brought their children to Friday’s pageant said they, too, wanted to keep their memories alive.
Aaron and Jennifer Cook, of Massillon, entered their daughter, Chloe, 4, as a Little Miss Liberty contestant.
“This is the first year she was old enough,” Aaron Cook said, as Chloe twirled around waving a miniature American flag. “Now that they’ve resurrected it, we decided to do it.”
Melissa Bartolone, of Massillon, said her 3-year-old son was too shy to participate and another son had just turned 6, putting him out of the age range. The pageant was open only to 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls.
“I was forced to do it when I was little,” she said. “I just wanted to support it (this year).”
When it came time for the pageant to start, the girls lined up and walked on stage to “This Land is Your Land,” and the boys, all three of them, to “Yankee Doodle.”
After the “Hokey Pokey,” they did a “freeze dance” with Garlando-Berens’ help. Three judges – Massillon firefighter Jason Laird, Tigers cheerleader Kaylin Moustaris, and Kids Scene director Lynda Blankenship – watched and took notes.
“We just looked for the cutest kid and if they were enjoying themselves,” said Moustaris, 17. “They all looked like they were having fun. They were all so cute.”
In the end, the judges chose Alyssa Yingling, 4, as Little Miss Liberty 2008 and Gavin Gresser, 5, as Little Uncle Sam 2008.
Zachary Miller, 4, was Little Uncle Sam first runner-up, and Dominic Lanzo, 4, was second runner-up.
Annika Lehman, 4, was Little Miss Liberty first runner-up, and Jyannah Elder, 4, was second runner-up.
“She’s my Little Miss Liberty,” Dan Yingling said of his daughter, Alyssa. “She’s got a personality, like, this big.”
Kim Lehman said of her daughter, Annika, “She’s such a ham. She just loves this kind of stuff.”
Other activities on Friday were geared more toward grown-ups, especially the older set. The movie “Stars and Stripes Forever” played at the Lincoln Theatre at 4 p.m., and the Del-Riccos and ReUNITED played the CitiCentre stage, starting at 6 p.m.
Fireworks, a favorite for all ages, started at 10 p.m.