Shoulders slumping, the little boy and his father slowly walked away from the growing crowd of parents and children on the field at Catonsville High School Wednesday morning.
"Why didn't you want to play? Were you scared?" the man asked.
The boy's answer was lost in the amplified voice of John Jacob on the public address system, announcing the start of the free games for youngsters sponsored by the Catonsville Men's Civic Association, the Association of Government Accountants and the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.
Adults' conversation, children's shouts and greetings between neighbors hushed as a group of young voices led the gathering crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The boy and his dad turned around. Within minutes, they were lost in the growing throng of children, parents, strollers, and a few dogs.
Jacob invited all those age 3 and younger to try their luck finding a lollipop in the huge pile of straw at one end of the field, and the morning's schedule of games was on.
Leon Zawacki, 4, was too old to take part this year. But there were plenty of other activities for ages 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 and 10-13.
In addition to the decorated bicycle contest in which both he and his sister Amelia, 7, had left their entries on the baseball field nearby, there was the gum ball on a spoon race, a sack race, shoe scramble and balloon toss.
Those with partners could also compete in the leap frog and human wheelbarrow races.
"Amelia's excited because she took third place in an event last year and she wants to medal this year," said Jonathan Zawacki on his daughter's enthusiasm for returning to the field off Valley Road on a very warm summer morning.
The annual event has been hosted by the men's civic association for more than 25 years and by the now-defunct Catonsville Jaycees for many years before that, according to Jacob, a member of the men's group.
Zawacki said his family, which also includes wife, Lane, and seven-month-old twins Eli and Hugo at home, has been coming to the morning event since 2008.
"That first year, I remember how excited we were that our community had something like this for kids," said the Howard County native. "And it's gotten better and better every year. The men's club of Catonsville has done a great job."
"We all love doing this," said Jim Reichart, a Catonsville resident since 1985 who was one of more than 15 men's civic association members in navy polo shirts who kept the activities going and everyone feeling involved.
"We all had kids grow up in this community," he said." Many still have young ones. But even those whose kids have grown up stay with it. We get more out of it than we put in."
Severna Park native Brian Eveleth said he also appreciated the event's "great community feeling" and "small town atmosphere" as he kept an eye on his children, Andrew, 2, and Toby, 6.
Like Zawacki, Eveleth was wearing a red t-shirt with chairs across the front commemorating the Catonsville tradition of leaving chairs along Frederick Road to reserve viewing spots for the annual parade later in the day.
"It's a good kick off for the day," the Catonsville resident said. "Then we'll hit the pool, the parade, fireworks. It's a full day."
It's a day Catonsville natives Pete and Michele Taylor have been enjoying ever since they can remember. It's one they brought daughters, Emily, 8, and twins Lindsay and Madelyn, 6, as well as nephew Matthew McCarlin, 7, to share on Wednesday.
"We've lived in Catonsville our whole lives," said Michele Taylor. "It's a tradition to come and show our children what being a community and a family is all about, the games, the fireworks, the parade."
Pete Taylor said he still recalls entering the bicycle contest as a youngster, when he came to the event with his parents and brothers.
"It's something you don't find in all communities," he said of the morning of free games from which many participants walked away with some small token.
Behind the finish line, Robert Bernhard manned the table that held the ribbons, medals and t-shirts awarded the top finishers in each event for each age group.
Bernhard agreed he had the best job "and the best view" as he eyed the group of youngsters balancing a gum ball on a plastic spoon heading toward him.
Now 23 and planning to move back to Catonsville from College Park where he was a student at the University of Maryland, Bernhard said his memories of the event as a participant are still strong.
"I remember I won the sack race 15 years ago," he said.
He said he still has the trophy.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun