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Spirit of America festival kicks off Tuesday

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

For only the fourth time in 23 years, the Fourth of July falls on Hump Day.

But no need to groan that there’s not enough time for a mini-vacation because the 41st annual Spirit of America Festival is in town.

You can honor true American heroes, rock out with Survivor, possibly get a glimpse at a future Miss America, wear your children out with games that fall out of the sky, chomp on funnel cakes and top it with a fireworks show.

Sure, a Wednesday holiday means no three-day weekend like we’ve had 13 times since 1984, and spoils the chance to take one vacation day and stretch the weekend to four days as occurred eight times during that period.

That boils down to fewer people heading out of town, said Martha Earnhardt, spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

“We think people won’t make the extended trip to the beach, but they may travel across town,” she said.

Across town in Decatur means Point Mallard Park, where everything but the SAAM bike ride will occur. (It will start Saturday after 6 a.m. registration at Adventure Park.)

The Spirit of America Festival is the biggest in North Alabama, stretching over two days. Thanks to dozens of sponsors, everything but the food is free.

It starts at 4 p.m. Tuesday and keeps going till midnight Wednesday. The first day offers children’s activities, such as inflatable rides as well as the first-ever Little Miss Point Mallard Pageant at T.C. Almon Recreation Center. Even more games are set for Wednesday, including the pingpong ball drop. Balls dropped from a helicopter can be redeemed for dozens of prizes.

Parents and children will want to re-gather at T.C. Almon at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday to register for First American Bank Spirit Parade. Participants have two more days to find all things red, white and blue and attach them to bikes, wagons and strollers. Prizes will go to the best-decorated entries in two age groups.

If you like to tap your feet and bob your head, go to the festival stage where the Spirit Idol singing competition begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Like the television show, Spirit Idol judges will critique contestants and narrow the field to three finalists: a child, teen and adult. Those three will compete for the top title during Wednesday’s Miss Point Mallard Pageant.

The pageant preliminary begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. with 13 young women ready to show their poise, talent and swimsuits in hopes of moving on in the Miss America program. The finals begin Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Survivor will hit the stage Tuesday at 9:15 p.m., playing Top 10 hits such as Grammy-winning “Eye of the Tiger,” which made it one of the most popular bands in the ’80s.

Six up-and-coming bands, such as Ahead of the Wake and Owing Adam, will perform Wednesday afternoon from noon to 6 p.m.

After the last band, you’ll have just enough time to grab a chicken on a stick, festival fries and fresh-squeezed lemonade before the VIP Awards ceremony.

Two of the three awards will honor Marines.

The Audie Murphy Patriotism Award will go to a father and son: Retired Col. John D. Harrill Jr. will be recognized for his heroism in Vietnam with his son, Maj. John D. Harrill III, who earned the Silver Star with valor for his actions in Iraq.

The H.J. Heimlich Humanitarian Award will recognize Marines in Huntsville for their efforts in Toys for Tots. Each year, Battery K sacrifices weekends and sleep to help more than 10,000 children at Christmas.

Barbara Kelly, Sally Smartt and Nell Standridge will receive the Barrett Shelton Freedom Award for ongoing efforts to renovate and enhance Delano Park and its rose garden.

A mishap caused the fireworks finale to fizzle last year, but Pyro Productions ensures no glitches this year. The company is using new, state-of-the-art equipment normally reserved for Olympics and Super Bowls. The show also will be synced to music that listeners can hear on three local radio stations.

If you just want to see the fireworks and park inside Point Mallard, organizers suggest leaving home by 8 p.m. because traffic backs up fast. For people heading to the park after 9 p.m., they strongly advise using the free shuttle service looping from the General Electric parking lot to a drop-off next to the activities. The shuttles will run until midnight.

Fireworks in the Valley

Looking to end your Fourth of July with a bang?

Decatur, Athens and Town Creek have free festivals offering children’s games, concessions, live music and, of course, pyrotechnics shows.

Decatur — Spirit of America Festival, Tuesday 4 to 10:30 p.m. and Wednesday 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Point Mallard Park; fireworks Wednesday at 10 p.m.

Athens — Fire Cracker Festival, Athens High School; Wednesday 3:30 to 9 p.m.; fireworks after dusk (8 to 8:30 p.m.)

Town Creek — Town Creek Park; Wednesday 6 to 9 p.m.; fireworks at 9 p.m.

Paul Huggins

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