UPDATED GALLERIES/VIDEO - Marco celebrates Fourth with a new name: Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam

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About 8,000 people were tranfixed for 25 minutes as Marco's $42,000 July 4 fireworks display lit up the skies of the island. Enjoy the last few minutes.

About 8,000 people were tranfixed for 25 minutes as Marco's $42,000 July 4 fireworks display lit up the skies of the island. Enjoy the last few minutes. Watch »

— The early bird gets the worm and the good parking spot.

Swarms of Fourth of July revelers descended upon Residents’ Beach on Marco Island for “Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam” on Saturday, and they brought their vehicles with them.

Parked sideways, facing in, facing out and bumper-to-bumper, thousands of cars, trucks and SUVs occupied nearly every square foot of available space along North Collier Boulevard as the festivities got under way at noon.

Ruth McCann, executive director of the Marco Island Civic Association, said she expected between 4,000 and 5,000 people during the day and another 8,000 for the fireworks display at 9 p.m.

“It’s a great beach day,” McCann shouted above the upbeat music blaring from a disc jockey booth 50 feet away. “This is definitely the place to be on the Fourth of July.”

Along with the DJ, the event featured kids’ games, a hot dog eating contest, a patriotic swimsuit contest, a sandcastle-building contest and, of course, the fireworks.

McCann said the annual Fourth of July celebration on Residents’ Beach has been a staple for at least 30 years.

“This is the first year we named it ‘Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam,’ but it’s been around for a lot longer than that,” she said. “It’s great because it brings people together. It brings neighbors and friends together to have a great time, and it’s also a great show of patriotism.”

If wardrobe were the measuring stick in that department, Maria and Angelo Deftereos took the red, white and blue cake on Saturday. The couple strolled hand-in-hand along the sandy beach sporting matching, American-flag, button-down shirts. Maria Deftereos’ outfit was topped off with a headband featuring two miniature American flags and an array of colorful streamers that resembled fireworks.

The former Ohio resident didn’t mince words when it came to describing how she felt about her country on its 235th birthday.

“There’s no place like it — the United States of America is the best place in the world,” she said.

Angelo Deftereos, who came to the United States from Greece in 1970 with $31 dollars in his pocket and became a citizen five years later, echoed his wife’s praise for his adopted country.

“I came here with nothing, but I worked hard and I made a good life,” he said. “There’s nowhere else in the world I could have done that except in America.”

Brian Hauser and Joe Swaja are co-chairmen of the Kiwanis Club’s community service and social committee, which sponsored the day’s sandcastle-building competition. Hauser said he expected between 35 and 70 entries, with prizes being awarded for best sandcastle, best sea creature, most patriotic and best overall.

“We have kids participating from 3 years old and up, and we let the families build together,” Hauser said. “We’re not sticking to the rules of international sandcastle building here.”

Swaja said the work of the younger competitors always impresses him.

“I’ll tell you what — the kids are really creative,” Swaja said. “The best part for me is watching their faces light up when you tell them they won a prize or they hear their name over the (public announcement) system. That’s what makes all the hard work worth it.”

Visiting from the east coast of Florida, Brian Dort and his daughter, Caylen, said they were having a blast during their day on the beach.

“The music, the people, the beach — it’s all great,” Dort said. “And we’re going to stay for the fireworks, too. Usually we’re out on the boat on the Fourth, but I’m really impressed with the setup they have here at the beach.”

Ten-year-old Caylen agreed.

“My favorite part will probably be the fireworks, but everything’s so much fun,” she said. “I think it’s a really good idea for them to do this here on the beach.”

E-mail John Osborne at johnaosborne@hotmail.com.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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