A perfect fall day drew thousands of parents, grandparents and kids to Pioneer Park in Billings for a day of fun.
Saturday Live, celebrating two decades as the biggest school carnival fundraiser in town, was a huge success again on Saturday. With sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s, the 80-plus booths did a brisk business throughout the daylong event.
“Things are going really well,” Julie Whitworth, event coordinator for the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, said on Saturday afternoon. “It feels crowded, and we always have more people show up when we have this kind of weather.”
The event collected more than $100,000 last year, which went directly to the schools that took part, and Whitworth said she hoped that amount would be topped this year.
A walk through the park saw kids doing everything from racing ducks or cars to getting their faces painted or their hair sprayed. Tie-dyed balloons were a hit, by a look at the number of people carrying them around.
Lines from two different directions waited to go through another traditional favorite, the Troll Booth. Taped music blared through the park, and people who wanted a few minutes to relax could sit under a canopy and watch live acts on the portable stage.
One of the big hits was a booth where kids could win a pencil, a piece of candy or a book. By mid-afternoon kids had grabbed about 400 books.
The booth was sponsored by the Midland Empire Reading Council, said volunteer Janelle Wilson, a member of the council and a second-grade teacher at Arrowhead Elementary.
“Our main goal is to give away as many books as we can, to promote literacy in the community,” Wilson said.
All of the books were donated by teachers in the community, she said, adding that she was pleased by the enthusiasm of the youngsters who visited the booth.
“They’ve been much more excited about books than I anticipated,” she said.
Six-year-old Eleni Michaelides, a first-grader at Miles Avenue Elementary, took her time shuffling through the books to pick out just the one she wanted. Finally she selected “Smasher” by Dick King-Smith.
“She decided on a chapter book that we can read at night,” said Kim Murphy, Eleni’s mother.
Murphy called her daughter “a total book hound” who sits and reads for hours. Murphy liked the idea of her daughter winning a book at the carnival.
“I think it’s really cool,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea, and it’s a toy they can use.”
Eleni, asked about her favorite book, found it hard to narrow her choice to just one.
“I like every book,” she said.
A few booths down, Paul Foster, 15, a sophomore at Senior High, got smacked in the head with a wet sponge every few minutes. He took it all with good humor, volunteering at the German Club’s booth.
For two tickets, youngsters could toss three wet sponges at the face of a club member peeking out of a painting of SpongeBob SquarePants. Foster said business had been steady throughout the day.
“It’s nice and warm, so it's kind of nice when you get wet,” he said.
Money raised through the day would go to fund the club’s activities, Foster said.
Members of Skyview High’s chapter of the Business Professionals of America saw success at a number of booths offering such things as face painting, hair spraying, candy and shaved ice. Jaedon Hopson, 11, a sixth-grader at Beartooth Elementary, got a purple octopus painted on her face and then chose purple hair to match.
Jaedon was at Saturday Live with her dad and two sisters. She called the face and hair painting “pretty cool.”
Asked what one booth she had to visit while she was at Saturday Live, she didn’t hesitate.
“The haunted house,” Jaedon said.
But she added that she also enjoys the sucker pull, winning a goldfish and eating a snow cone.
Jessica Berry, a Skyview junior and member of the BPA, came ready for the day, her face decorated in colorful paint. After she spray painted Jaedon's hair, she said the day had been going well.
"We are very busy," she said, while waiting for her next customer to sit down.
Money from the day helps students pay for an annual trip and helps with club dues. Berry enjoyed Saturday Live as a child, and now she's glad to help make it a fun day for other youngsters.
"I think it gives kids something to look forward to," she said.
Whitworth said in addition to treating the community to a day of fun, Saturday Live also gives a big boost to schools both in and outside of School District 2.
“I love Saturday Live because in some ways it equalizes the opportunity,” she said. “Every school has a chance to be supported by the entire community, not just their neighborhood.”
Whitworth said she’s a little surprised that interest in the event has remained high for so many years. She attributed it to a community supporting its schools blended with a sense of tradition.
“I talk to people who are here with kids and they remember coming to the first Saturday Live,” Whitworth said. “PTA members were here as grade-schoolers and now they’re on the PTA helping run their booths.”