Originally created 07/05/96

Fireworks, not speeches provide holiday bang at Patriots Park



APPLING - On America's birthday, 5-year-old Jessica Rock was thinking back much more than 220 years.

Jessica had to choose between the two prehistoric Barneys competing for her attention: Barney Rubble - Fred Flintstone's pal - and
Barney the Dinosaur, the purple friend of children across the land.

No contest.

"I like Barney the Dinosaur much better," Jessica said of the costumed characters who approached her Thursday afternoon at "4th of July over Patriots Park," an Independence Day celebration organized by the Columbia County Recreation Department Advisory Board.

Jessica, who came from Hephzibah with her mother and sister, was among the many children who enjoyed games, races, choo-choo train rides and refreshments during the afternoon.

More of the same was scheduled for the evening hours, along with band performances and all-star baseball games.

But young and old alike were expecting the 10 p.m. fireworks show to be the big event, with one advisory board member estimating attendance would soar as high as 20,000 people.

Political fireworks were harder to find.

Though more than 20 candidates for elected offices were scheduled to give 15-minute speeches beginning at 4:15 p.m., 15 seconds was closer to the average running time during the afternoon. With few people paying attention and a guitar-and-voice combo competing for the sound waves, most candidates quickly outlined their reasons for running and asked for votes.

Campaigning went on throughout the day, however.

Several candidates set up tents or booths and gave out stickers, hand-held fans and sweet iced tea. Others worked the crowd, shaking hands and deploying their children to talk up the cause as the July 9 primaries approached.

Though temperatures were high, most folks talked and walked and ate comfortably. And Bryce Pate, an eighth-grader at Lakeside Middle School, found a particularly cool spot in the dunking booth.

Bryce, who was doused repeatedly by youngsters throwing softballs at a small target, said his job beat going to the lake for the afternoon. As he waited for ball after ball to hit the target, his adrenaline surged.

"It feels like a little rush, I guess," he said of the moment of impact, the instant when he knew he was about to go under. "It feels weird when you hit the water."