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Family and town traditions at Bel Air Fourth of July events

Very warm weather couldn't keep hundreds of people from watching and participating in Bel Air's many Fourth of July events at Shamrock Park Wednesday.

Thankfully, threats of thunderstorms held off, humidity stayed relatively low and there were plenty of trees for families to roll out beach blankets and enjoy a snowball during the Independence Day festivities.

Continuing a long-standing tradition in Bel Air, children brought pet hamsters and recently-caught turtles and frogs to compete in that morning's races in the park.

Music played over speakers to get the crowd pumped and soon after 9 a.m., hamsters in plastic balls were placed in three large circles on the gravel and raced as fast as they could to exit the marked circle.

Well, at least some did.

A few stubborn hamsters refused to move inside their balls, even after encouragement from the crowd and some gentle nudging from Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane.

During the second heat, one hamster rolled near to the circle's edge only to turn around and roll back to the center.

The kids in the crowd were even more fascinated with the box turtles, many of which were in boxes with a small amount of water, waiting for their moment to shine in the box turtle race.

Lance Miller, of Bel Air, caught his turtle, Big Boy, a week ago in preparation of the race.

While it was his first year participating, he and his kids come every year to watch.

After the race, Miller said he would release Big Boy back into the woods near his home.

Big Boy's chances to win were good.

"He's quick," Miller said, but he had one thing working against him: Big Boy didn't get along with the ladies.

"He's mean around the girl turtles," Miller said. "He chases after the girls."

Unfortunately, Big Boy didn't make it to the finals.

Unlike the hamsters, the box turtles were rather quick and darted to the outside of the marked circle in the gravel pit. Each race only lasted a few seconds.

The non-box turtle category fared the same - turtles were released and in the blink of an eye, the water creatures "ran" as fast as they could to the finish line.

Amy and Bill Parker were among those waiting for the frog jumping contest.

The couple from Bel Air caught their pair of toads, specifically for the race, Tuesday night near a pond behind the John Carroll School.

"The kids are old enough to race them now," the proud mother said. "But we go to all the festivities."

Her two children, Katherine and John, both wore red, white and blue outfits and peered through the fence as they watched the turtle races.

Other kids went up to the Parkers to take a look at their toads, which they kept in a large cooler with a small amount of water and leaves.

Nearly 200 frogs, big and small, participated in the contest.

The frogs had 30 seconds or three jumps to go as far as they could, starting from a wet piece of wood in the middle of the circle in the gravel pit.

Many didn't make a move, others looked as if they were escaping, jumping under fences or around them and making kids in the crowds scream.

Around noon, frogs were still taking their turns jumping and young Sam Lynch was in second place with 115 inches.

While 115 inches was impressive he was still nowhere near reaching the record of 171 inches set during last year's contest.

The record holder? His sister, Jenny.

Jenny Lynch, 15, has been participating for several years and hopes to compete for many more.

She got the frog jumping bug from her dad, Bob Lynch, who competed nearly every year since 1974, missing a few during his college years.

Finding the perfect frogs to compete has become a tradition for the Bel Air family.

"We were out until 2:30 in the morning yesterday," Lynch said. "Going through two different counties - Cecil and Harford."

When asked where they found this year's frog, Lynch would only say Northern Harford County, not wanting to give out the exact spot.

More important than finding the right frog, Jenny said, is in how you treat them after they are caught.

"Don't touch them. Leave them alone after you catch them," she explained.

Jenny said it's important that the frog's "first sense of freedom" after being caught is once they are in the circle in the gravel pit.

Do that and "they just want to go," Jenny said.

Besides the actual event, catching the frogs the night before is the best part.

"I love this. My favorite part is catching them. You feel like a ninja," she said.

One person hard to miss in the crowd was Jake Kahoe, of Bel Air, or, as he was being called, Mr. America.

Kahoe was dressed head to toe in stars and stripes, wearing an American flag-themed body suit that even covered his face.

Mr. America constantly had a crowd around him with people asking the same questions: "Is that hot?" and "Where did you get it [the body suit]?"

"Yes and I ordered it online," Kahoe said laughing. "I saw a picture of it on Facebook and I wanted one."

This is the first time he has dressed like a patriotic superhero for the Fourth of July, but on Halloween he did something similar with a different body suit.

Kahoe explained that while he could see shapes and colors through his red and white striped outfit, he couldn't see much else.

When asked how he chose his name, he said, "Captain America is copyrighted."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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  • Alli McDonald, of Bel Air, tries to encourage her frog to get moving as she competes in the Frog Jumping contest at Shamrock Park.

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