Rite Of Spring Takes Flight Over Carroll Cornfield

Family's `Kite Sail' Grows Into Tradition

April 21, 1997|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Over a Carroll County cornfield yesterday, kites soared hundreds of feet in the air, fluttered perilously close to treetops and sometimes crashed to the dusty ground.

It was the 12th annual "April Kite Sail," courtesy of kite enthusiast Bill Cunningham, who invites friends, family and kite lovers to join him each year for a high-flying rite of spring on a Manchester hilltop.

Cunningham, who describes himself as 40-something, always schedules the "kite sail" for the third Sunday in April, when, according to the Farmers Almanac, good weather is a good bet. The almanac isn't always right -- veteran kite sailors recall some rainy, cold days -- but yesterday didn't disappoint.

The blue skies beckoned the kites.

Cunningham was first at the kite-flying site yesterday morning to test the winds and explain the subtleties of the sport to his 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

"It you don't get it up into the steady breezes in the morning, sometimes the gusts aren't high enough later in the day," he said, while trying to launch an iridescent blue kite in the shape of a hawk.

"Let it go where it wants to go; here's the wind, let it go," he told Elizabeth.

The "kite sail" began in 1980 when Cunningham and some friends had a picnic at Autumn Purchase, his family's farm in Manchester. Over the years, the event grew into a tradition.

The kite sail was on hiatus from 1989 to 1995 when Cunningham and his wife, Laurie Karll, lived in Seattle. They now live in Lineboro with their three children.

"We got back and all the oldsters that used to come to it were asking me about it," Cunningham said. "You've got to contribute something to life, and I guess I've got the kite sail."

His memories of some earlier kite sails remain vivid -- the year 50 kites were in the air at one time and the year the reggae band played by the cornfield.

The kite sails are held at the farm owned by Cunningham's father, Dr. Bill Cunningham. The family sold the farmhouse and some land but still owns about 120 acres.

"So we've got these fields we used to play in, and I just hate to see them not being visited once in a while," Cunningham said.

Each year, Cunningham presents awards at the conclusion of the kite sail, including prizes for the longest-flying kite and the youngest kite flier.

Yesterday's kite sail drew about 25 people by mid-afternoon. Many of the original kite sail participants still attend the events.

"It started out as a nice party, and then it became a family event because we were all having kids," said Karll.

Reggae bands have given way to baby strollers, minivans and children's birthday parties with a kite sail theme.

Marty Fisher of Hampstead, who's been going to kite sails since the beginning, held her 13-month-old grandson, Aaron Heinle, yesterday. It was the boy's second kite sail.

"Our kids have been raised on kite sails, and we're going to have three grandchildren here today," Fisher said.

Her daughter, Erin Fisher, who has never missed a kite sail, typically doesn't have much luck getting her kites to stay in the air. But that's not really the point.

"It's just getting together," Fisher said, "having a good time and running around in a cornfield."

Pub Date: 4/21/97

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