It started out like any other school day, but commenced to a fun-filled morning of exhilarating wild twists, sky high rides, icy sno-cones, sweet funnel cakes and grilled hot dogs drenched in mustard and relish.
This past Saturday, the Collier County Junior Deputies League (CCJDL) hosted its decades-long tradition and annual fair day for roughly 3,000 Collier County youngsters, a special treat reserved once a year for area fourth graders.
Under picture perfect sunny skies, kids like 10-year-old Anthony Valdivia from Corkscrew Elementary School, packed school buses that formed big yellow convoys and wound through the streets and then parked like tin soldiers in rows at a field outside of the Collier County Fair.
As the minutes seemed to drag out far too slowly, the doors of bus No. 650, carrying 53 Parkside Elementary fourth-graders, finally opened, and as others followed in droves, the harmony of children’s laughter gave way to safe, adult-guided rivers of little legs running for rides amid a concert of deafening screams of excitement.
“OMG! OMG!” exclaimed many in the group as they burst through the entrance and dashed into the anarchy of colorful musical rides, games and kiosks as good as any fair might have.
Wasting no time, within just minutes, Valdivia was waving one arm high and riding the mechanical bull as his grandma, Naples resident Jean Baker, looked on, while other boys itching for the rodeo ride fun waited excitedly in line. Many of the kids raced to the large petting zoo that hosted all kinds of close-up animals, including a zebra. Boys and girls alike lined up for rides like the Tornado, a hodge-podge of flying turnabout containers with seats, or the roller coaster called the Stinger, and a wide variety of other rides and fun-filled activities.
CCJDL President Wayne Arnold strolled the event with a camera and was pleased with the outcome. “To see the expression of these kids having all this fun is amazing,” said Arnold.
Sixty-plus Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies were there overseeing activities and communing with the children. One of the goals of the Junior Deputies League is to build trust between law enforcement and area youth, and to expose the children to activities such as this as a way to help them with future choices in life. The CCJDL hosts other events throughout the year.
To mark appreciation and the success of the 50 years benefiting Collier County and the county’s youth by the CCJDL, as well as more than 35 years hosting the half-day free fair event, CCJDL Executive Director Ellie Krier said the Collier County Commission issued a proclamation designating the date of Saturday’s event, March 17, as “Junior Deputies Day at the Collier County Fair.”
The proclamation states that the CCJDL “owns and utilizes Camp Discovery to provide unique primitive camping, nature study and fishing opportunities in a natural setting for area students, youth groups and Boy Scout troops consistent with the original intent of the League under former Sheriff Doug Hendry and continued by Sheriffs Rogers, Hunter and current Sheriff Kevin Rambosk.”
Back at the fair, two fourth-grade girls raced away with goldfish in miniature aquariums. Wafting through the air for purchase was the sweet aroma of popcorn, deep fried Twinkies, fried Oreos and elephant ears. Just outside by the sleeping yellow buses, free lunches were grilled for after the fun, and all the lunch food was provided by Sweetbay Supermarket.
Sweetbay manager Jack Drew said, “Sweetbay believed this was an event worth being involved in.”
Toward the end, smiling 9-year-old Faith Sundblad was quick to say she’s almost 10. Exiting the fun house, Sundblad said, “It was fun. It (the fun house) was easy to get through. But my favorite part of the fair is the swing ride that goes high up in the sky. It’s kind of like you’re flying, and it’s kind of scary.”
And it’s kind of, OMG!, definitely fun.