July 4 competitions bring families, festivities to Bel Air

Despite an early burst of rain from the edge of Hurricane Arthur, attendance was good and spirits were high at Bel Air's annual July 4 competitions Friday morning.

A total of 144 frogs hopped their way through Great Bel Air Frog Jumping Contest and about 105 turtles tried to race out of the white circles painted for the Turtle Derby at Shamrock Park, as their young human owners cheered them on.

The sign-up numbers were lower than those last year, when some wildlife groups raised concern about the safety and cruelty of the animal races.

Many of this year's participants had heard about the controversy but said the derby and frog-jumping contest are done appropriately.

"We always let our turtles go and make sure they are well taken care of," Michael Douglass, of Whiteford, said, adding his family also tries to return the turtle to the same place it was found, as advised by the Independence Day Committee.

His daughter, 14-year-old Jessica, won a trophy with her turtle, Squirt. She has been coming to the derby since before she can remember.

Michael Douglass and his wife, Kathy, noted their son, Anthony, has also won in the contest before.

"It took a lot of turtles, a lot of time," Michael Douglass said about the competition.

Kathy and Jessica Douglass added it was the water and vegetables they give the turtles that may have helped produce the winner.

"There is a secret to our method," Michael Douglass said with a smile, hinting that it involved "TLC, tender loving care."

Like most participants, he called the Bel Air July 4 events a reliable, positive celebration.

"It's country-oriented, it's family-oriented. It's a tradition of Bel Air," he said. "We would like to keep that up. We think it's nice."

He also said he thought many turtles are probably saved by being picked up for the turtle derby, as they may otherwise end up in the road or other danger.

"As long as the turtles are properly taken care of, I don't see where it would hurt anything," he said.

Jenna VanPelt, 13, of Fallston, ultimately won a trophy as well with her female turtle, Bob. She explained her family thought Bob was a boy until "he" laid eggs.

She had never been in the race before, although her mother, Ashley VanPelt, remembered coming as a child.

"I thought it was fun," Jenna said of the race. "She was our turtle for a long time. We found her in the bay."

Ashley and Gene VanPelt both did not see any issues with the derby, either.

"I didn't think anybody did anything to their turtle," Ashley VanPelt said.

April and Timothy Moeller, of Bel Air, who came to the frog-jumping contest last year, were there again with their children Aiden, 7, and Alayia, 5.

Aiden and Alayia were competing with frogs Hopper and Thunder, respectively.

"It was pretty fun," Aiden said about the competition. "I think the secret is you have to blow under him [the frog]."

April Moeller did not see any problems with the contest, but she suggested distributing safety information better before the event or publishing it in The Aegis.

"Last year we had no clue," she said of the safety guidelines for the races.

"I think if people could be responsible and put the frogs back, they will be fine," she added.

Jackie McDonald, of Bel Air, called the events a must-see. Her daughter, Alli, 8, won a trophy in the frog contest.

"I refuse to be away from Bel Air for the Fourth of July," McDonald said. "It's one of my favorite Bel Air traditions."

After the animal races, the festivities continued with Uncle Sam Says, the watermelon-eating contest and the bicycle rodeo. Central Christian Church also provided face-painting, which drew a steady line of people.

At the bike rodeo, many children signed up for the first time to try to wind their way through obstacle courses on the Bel Air Elementary School parking lot, their bikes festooned with all things red, white and blue.

This year's rodeo drew 187 riders, up from last year.

Christina Samioglou, of Bel Air, said it was a fun event for her daughters, Penelope, 4, and Isabelle, 11.

"It was literally her first rodeo," Samioglou said with a smile about Penelope.

"This is family fun," she said of the event. "I like how they keep all the activities in one place."

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