The show goes on

The economy pinches harder, but at least one summer carnival keeps up the tradition of raising fun and funds

July 15, 2008|By JEAN MARBELLA

Housing foreclosures have hit record numbers. It can cost $100 to fill up an SUV. Even Fannie and Freddie might need an advance on their allowance from Uncle Sam.

Can the economic news get any worse?

Oh, yes. The faltering economy now is coming after something truly precious: the summer carnival. Across the country, carnivals have been canceled outright or their hours shortened as a result of the soaring cost of the fuel that powers the rides, heats the oil for the corn dogs and lights up all those midway attractions.

Lucky for us, though, the South Baltimore Little League Carnival opened last night on Fort Avenue, bringing a 110-foot Ferris wheel and the intoxicating scent of fried dough to the neighborhood as it has every summer for years and years. The tilt-a-whirl ride, the candy apple stand, the toss-a-ball, the win-a-goldfish game - they're all back for another summer, but at a price.

It'll cost a couple more bucks this year - a pass to ride the rides as often as you like all night costs $18 this year, compared to last year's $16 - and carnival organizers are hoping that won't put too much of a crimp on attendance.

"The economy is so bad now, I really think people are little bit more cost-conscious these days," said Linda Ruff, a longtime South Baltimore Little League booster. "I know I have friends who are saying they're still coming, but maybe they'll come one night instead of two or three nights this year."

In South Baltimore, you can set your calendar to the rhythm of the Little League. Spring? That starts in April, when the players gather at Federal Hill Park and parade through the neighborhood to mark their opening day. They play through mid-July, and then, before you know it, it's carnival time and summer is half over. Ruff is into her third generation with the Little League - growing up on Riverside Avenue, her brother played on one of the four original teams that comprised the league. Her kids played on South Baltimore Little League teams and now so do her grandchildren. She's seen the league grow from four teams of 10- and 11-year-olds to its current 18 teams of about 300 kids ages 4 to 18. She's watched it go coed and add T-ball and softball to its offerings.

Ruff thinks the league has hosted a carnival for about 30 years now; it's its major fundraiser by far, and the league goes all out, with different entertainment acts every night.

"If it wasn't for the carnival," she said, "we would not have the program." While the league has received its share of corporate support over the years - Coca-Cola gave it their playing fields; most recently, Under Armour provided the scoreboard - organizers have to raise money for a wealth of other expenses, from utilities to maintenance to equipment to charter fees.

This year, as last year, the rides, games and concession stands are being handled by Sherwood Amusements, which gives the Little League a percentage of its take. It's a local - based in Upper Falls - family-owned company that does about 30 carnivals a year, and it's feeling the pinch of higher fuel costs.

Last year, it cost the company about $1,000 to power up the generators that keep the rides, games and concession trucks going, and this year it will cost three times that much, said Butch Adams, Sherwood's manager.

"And that doesn't even include the diesel for all the trucks," he added, waving a tattooed arm toward the dozen or so trucks that hauled the equipment to the Little League field for the carnival. Or, he said, the increased costs of food supplies and even the stuffed toy prizes - particularly important in the games for the smallest kids, where he promises, in the best carny tradition, that every player is guaranteed a prize.

Adams said the company is dealing as best it can with this year's increased costs, and, after 30 years in the business, he still enjoys spending warm summer nights amid the bright lights and gleefully sticky atmosphere of a carnival.

"Not many people," he says, "can say that their job is to make little kids smile."


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