Fair's winners begin young

Cute: Baby float contest judges struggle to pick the most creatively decorated wagons.

August 15, 1999|By Zanto Peabody | Zanto Peabody,SUN STAFF

As the little red wagons lined up for the baby contest at the Howard County Fair yesterday, parents looked on to see if their bundle of joy would go down as blue-ribbon or also-ran.

Four of the sweatiest palms, the hardest-bitten lips, belonged to Brice and Amber Dawson, who have no children.

The newlyweds made up two-thirds of the panel that selected the most creatively costumed infant and toddler yesterday on the final day of the 54th Howard County Fair.

"I don't want to try to say which baby is cutest," Amber Dawson said. "I just look at the decoration of the floats and see if everything is consistent. That way we're not saying somebody's baby is not cute."

Ranking a spoonful of pear preserves more bitter than another may take a degree of confidence. Having to tell a sad, puppy-eyed kid his calf is not as healthy as his neighbor's probably takes some fortitude. But babies?

"You couldn't pay me to have their job," said Vanessa Stern of Ellicott City. "I'm not going to have some parent looking mad at me because I said somebody else's kid was cuter than theirs."

But the Dawsons and Darlene Thompson, the third judge, arrived yesterday prepared to make the tough selection.

"It's very hard to pick a winner," Thompson said. "We just have to make the parents understand that it's not personal; we are not picking based on the cuteness of the baby. It's the float design we're looking at."

The floats were strollers and wagons decorated in agricultural themes, and each baby was costumed to match the theme.

Seven-month-old Shelby Iager, the daughter of Heather and Mike Iager of Fulton, dragged a float of flowers bearing the sign "Shelby Sunshine." Geoffrey Mark Frerette, the 2 1/2-year-old son of Sherry Frerette of Columbia, had the most telling entry, a plain red wagon with two small squash inside.

"Geoffrey has a little, tiny wagon because this year's harvest was a little, tiny harvest," said master of ceremonies Mary Ellen McManus.

The Dawsons, nudged into being judges by McManus, their aunt, used the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of parenthood.

"We confirmed that babies are cute, but not cute for us for a couple of years," Amber Dawson said.

While the newlyweds were pondering babies, the two winning babies in the non-walking category were taking advantage of the "Just Married" theme. Dominic Smith, 17 months, and Jordan Joyce, 10 months, donned wedding formals, right down to Jordan's veil.

Dominic's father, Eddie Smith of Columbia, emerged smiling from his position near an exit when the winners were announced. Michele Joyce, Jordan's mother, predicts the victory foreshadows a real marriage between Dominic and Jordan.

"That's where we got the idea from," Joyce said. "They spend so much time together people are always saying they are going to get married."

In the end, parents and children behaved themselves. There's something about coming in from the heat, McManus said of the competition, held indoors for the first time.

"These kids were all good and quiet today," she said. "But we've had years when all the kids were acting up.

All of the children were presented prizes.

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