When a friend of mine asked me, “How come our area doesn’t have its own fireworks display for the 4th of July?,” I responded that local residents need to embrace and get more involved in the annual “Freedom Festival,” presented by the (noon) Rotary Club of Wesley Chapel. The Festival was held this year at the Shops at Wiregrass mall on July 3, so local residents could celebrate closer to home and still head out to the beach for the 4th itself.

And, despite temperatures nearing 100º F that roasted attendees for more than five hours, the Freedom Festival was definitely a tremendous success which included many titles being awarded, including the “Little Miss & Little Mr. Firecracker,” separate hot dog- and watermelon-eating contests, a bicycle decorating contest and the folks who paid for it all — a number of wonderful sponsors and business exhibitors who braved the sweltering heat in order to get their names out in front of thousands of attendees. It was difficult to estimate the size of the crowd, because there were also many people on hand who were just visiting the mall, but anyone who ended up at the Shops certainly had to enjoy the adorable kids decked out in their red, white and blue splendor, as well as the multiple live bands who performed throughout the event, the inflatable playgrounds, bungee jumping and so much more.

Congratulations to the Wesley Chapel Rotary, the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, the Shops at Wiregrass and everyone who made the “Freedom Festival” the place to see and be seen on the 3rd of July.

As for the many winners at the Freedom Festival, the new Miss Firecracker was 7-year-old Alyssa Burgess, with Paityn Jetter (23 months) and Julia Anderson (age 3) winning the titles in the their respective age groups. For the boys, the new Mr. Firecracker is 9-month-old Jack Semeraro, with Tysen Jefferson (2-1/2) and Dylan Cofini (6) winning the titles in the other boys’ age groups.

The hot dog- and watermelon-eating contest winners were Sean McAveety and Spencer McCabe, respectively. The awesome, rockin’ country of JT Curtis won the Battle of the Bands. We did not have the names of the winners of the kids’ bicycle decorating contest at our press time, but you can see pics of all the winners at NTNeighborhoodNews.com. — GN

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