Westminster Fallfest flexes its muscle in aid of nonprofits

When the 2012 Westminster Fallfest celebration kicks off on Thursday night, Sept. 27, with the annual parade, Woody Higgs will be right at the front.

Higgs, along with five other residents representing Special Olympics-Maryland, Carroll County, will carry the Fallfest banner.

"We're really excited," said Donna McGuire, assistant volunteer coordinator for Special Olympics, and Higgs' mother. "This is our first time in Fallfest."

Special Olympics, along with Carroll Hospice, the Taneytown Lions Club and the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Fund, was selected to be the partners for this year's annual Fallfest. The relationship is one that aids Fallfest, one of the largest celebrations in the county. But it also helps the nonprofits and community organizations, as they reap some of the proceeds from the four-day festival, this year running Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 27-30.

As in past years, each "partner" group agrees to help during the festival with volunteers and planning. This year, volunteers from Special Olympics will run the popular Kids Court, a section of the festival with games and activities for youngsters.

"There will be a lot of activities geared for all different ages," McGuire said, of the plans for Kids Court. "Every child that leaves will get a little prize."

Volunteers, including parents of athletes, will help man the court throughout the festival hours. A few athletes will also be present.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for Special Olympics to get out in the community and show off our athletes," said Sam Hodapp, regional director for Special Olympics of Maryland. "It's going to be a fun time. We're very, very excited."

For athletes Christopher Anderson, Ralph Gemmill and Higgs, being members of the Special Olympics-Carroll County team means more than just competing in their events. While each participates in a variety of sports — including golf, kayaking, sailing, soccer, skiing and swimming — the three enjoy the camaraderie most of all.

"It's his socialization," said Deborah Gemmill, Ralph's mother and therapeutic recreation specialist for Special Olympics. "He was a poster child for Special Olympics in 1983 when he was 10 years old. ... He did all kinds of things across the state. It helped make him the man he is today."

Funds from Fallfest will help the Special Olympics program grow, McGuire said.

"We want to expand the program and get more athletes involved," she said.

Another charity benefiting from Fallfest for the first time will be the Stacey Davis Breast Cancer Foundation.

"We are pleased they selected us to be a part of it," said Jenny Davis, a committee member.

The Stacey Davis Fund provides financial support for breast cancer patients in Carroll County. In the past, the group's main fundraiser has been the Hair Ball, a dance and celebration that is slated to be held this year on Oct. 20. At Fallfest, the group will have grant information available, as well as breast cancer items for sale. The group will also be running the scarecrow tent.

"We will be there nonstop," Davis said. "We are very excited. We are ready with information to hand out."

This year, the Westminster Fallfest brings back many favorite events, including the parade on Thursday night; Midnight Madness on Friday, the Buffalo Wild Wing Eating Contest; a Westminster dog show; and a karaoke contest.

New this year will be the radio station 100.7, The Bay, which will have a remote location set up during Saturday and Sunday. Members of the Fallfest board hope the station's reach will help spread the word far and wide about the glory of Carroll County, and the fun times in Westminster.

"It really (expands) us out of Carroll County," said Jennifer Mellor, assistant director of recreation and parks, of the station's presence. "Its tentacles reach a lot further. That's good."

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