Maybe “hunt” wasn’t the right word.
When the gathering of children was given the go-ahead to cross the ribbon and start collecting eggs at the Royal Scoop’s 16th Annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, the scene was more like piranhas stripping a skeleton, or locusts tearing through a cornfield in the Dust Bowl.
“Every year it gets bigger and bigger,” said David Zimmerman, owner of the Royal Scoop ice cream shop that hosts the event. Zimmerman said he wasn’t strong on figures, but he did know that this year, the children would be collecting more than 17,500 plastic Easter eggs.
Each one of those eggs had to be opened so the candy could be inserted, and Zimmerman lauded the efforts of all the volunteers, including the residents of Marbella in Pelican Bay, and “our friends at Bay Forest – they stuffed thousands.”
The eggs were not hidden, but out in plain sight, on grassy areas behind the First Baptist Church on Vanderbilt Drive south of Bonita Beach Road.
“We outgrew the space by our store years ago,” said Zimmerman, “and the First Baptist Church is being very kind and hosting again.”
The hunt was divided into two sections, with one field for the 2- to 5-year-olds, and another for the six to 10 age group. The kids were in it to win it, clearing the area of eggs in record time. Some of the baskets they carried approached laundry-hamper size.
And of course, some parents weren’t content to watch from the sidelines, but got right out into the fray, holding baskets, coaching, and pointing their offspring toward more promising sectors.
“We love this,” said Shereen Roggio, as Xander and Aydian, her two sons, sorted out the loot after the scramble. In addition to the boys, she brought two Chihuahuas to share the fun.
One additional hazard, which was announced over the public address system, kept everyone on their toes. The grassy area was home to many fire ant mounds, despite the organizers’ best efforts with spray and granular pesticides. Those in open shoes sometimes found out too late they were standing in the wrong spot.
After the main event, the children participated in some “egg-cellent” games and contests. The younger set tossed plastic eggs into Easter baskets, while the bigger kids ran races, holding a raw egg – a real one – on an ice cream cone.
The trick was to move fast, but smoothly, to beat the competition but not drop your egg. At least if you did drop it, it wasn’t all over you.
This was not true for the next event, the Egg Toss. Two lines of children, starting close together but moving farther and farther apart, threw raw eggs back and forth and caught them as delicately as possible.
Some of the eggs survived some amazing drops onto the ground, leading to jesting accusations that some teams were slipping in hard-boiled eggs. Eventually, though, they all broke, often covering the would-be catcher in an instant scramble. As the lines backed up, some of the throws became erratic, and even the adult spectators were in the line of fire. One mom’s fancy shoes became a casualty.
If the egg toss didn’t make enough of a mess, the next event was the ice cream eating contest. Only after the young contestants were sitting in front of the bowls, Zimmerman, declaring himself a “professional, trained scoopologist,” announced the rules – no hands.
“Eat it like a doggie,” mom Jyl Miller advised her daughter Chesna Saxton, 7. In her pretty dress and hair bows, Chesna was not thrilled.
“She didn’t know there wouldn’t be any spoons,” said Miller.
Jack Watt, 11, of Edina, Minn., took top honors in the contest, and had the well-smeared face to prove it.
Elsewhere around the site, children including Uriel Perez, 9, got their faces painted by young volunteers. They frolicked in the inflatable slide and the bounce house. The Easter Bunny, who may have been Kristyn Stetson on the inside, posed for pictures with all comers.
First Baptist youth pastor Jared Novak escorted Sparky the Firefly through the crowd, and spread the word about the Wednesday night children’s program at the church. Children and adults alike enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, and a beautiful day in the sun.