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Festival features fun in the air

Balloons and other aircraft give people at Celebration Pasco plenty to crane their necks at.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 14, 2000

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Balloons rise into the morning sky at the start of the balloon contest Saturday.
ODESSA -- At 8 years old, Jeremy Waters started with little plastic model planes. In middle school, he graduated to flying radio-controlled planes. Now 19, he's working jumbo jets.

Waters, standing before a half dozen of his radio-controlled replicas, said that about the only difference between a real plane and a radio-controlled one is with the smaller model, you stay out of the sky.

"They basically act the same way," he said of the real PT-17 Stearman biplane trainer he flew and the miniature one he owns. "They're both kind of tedious on the ground."

All of Waters' planes that he brought to Starkey Ranch for Saturday's Celebration Pasco 2000 were for display. He does fly the World War II-vintage P-51 Mustang and the World War I-era Fokker D-VII and has been flying them for five years.

More than 100 people came to watch other members of the West Pasco Model Pilots Association fly their planes. They stared into a hot afternoon sun watching national champion model aerobatic pilot John Schroeder do things with a model aircraft that only stunt pilots or the insane would try in a real plane.

Much of the celebration was skyward.

More than a thousand came early to watch 14 hot-air balloons take off into a spectacular sunrise. The balloonists were playing a game called Hare and Hounds, in which the hare balloon takes off, leading the hounds to a field. The hare lands, and the hounds must drop a bean bag closest to the hare to win.

There were plans to have some of the balloonists give tethered rides, but the wind didn't cooperate.

The crowds thinned in the heat of the afternoon, but organizers expected a large crowd for the celebration's finale, the balloon glow. After dark, the balloons would be inflated and illuminated.

But not all was in the sky.

Typical of festivals, there were food, a dunk tank and an inflated trampoline fun house for kids. One of the more unique events was cow chip bingo for the Pasco Boys and Girls Club. Contestants bought squares, and if a live cow delivered the goods on the square, they won.

Kathryn Starkey, co-chairwoman of the event, said the event had gone well, with a few kinks to be worked out. A slide show didn't go off because of too much sun, and they needed more volunteers next year, she said.

Jim Slaughter, Pasco County Parks and Recreation director and also a model pilot, said they hoped the celebration would become a yearly event. He said the turnout was larger than expected and attendees had thanked him for helping put it on.

"We need to have more things like this," he said. "It's a good, family event."

-- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, extension 6247. His e-mail address is

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