by Terry Duffy
What a hot, happening summer it's been!
From record-breaking Tuesday concerts at Artpark, another exciting Level Regatta in Youngstown, hundreds participating at youth soccer tourneys at Fort Niagara, the hosting one of the most popular art festivals in Western New York, to another successful Jazz Fest, Lewiston and northern Niagara have been the place to be for thousands.
And the good times continue next weekend with the 53rd annual Niagara County "Lewiston Kiwanis" Peach Festival.
In coming days, Center Street in the Village of Lewiston again will be bustling with activity. Tents, rides and setups galore are going up at Academy Park as the Kiwanis Club of Lewiston begins final preparations for this year's festival. The festival opens at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, and continues to 11 p.m. It runs all day Saturday and Sunday. Times are 11 a.m. till 11 p.m.
Pioneered in the late 1950s by Lewiston Kiwanians as a local celebration of Niagara County farmers and their tasty produce, the Peach Festival started off, as one would expect, with samplings of Niagara County's famous peaches. Peach cobblers became an instant hit, as were servings of peach soda. The country fair atmosphere of the midway proved enjoyable and, throughout the decades, the Peach Festival has grown in popularity by offering something for just about everyone.
One component of the festival that has proven widely successful is its focus on youth events -- Friday evening's cheerleading competitions a case in point.
Entering its 18th year in 2010, the idea of holding a cheerleading competition was seen by Kiwanis organizers as yet another way to reach out to the public, to spur interest, to spur involvement.
"One Friday night, some 19 years ago we all sat around" at the festival, recalled Peach Festival Advisory Chairman Jerry Wolfgang. "The rides were up, but we had very minimal attendance. We thought about what we could do."
Wolfgang told of one idea offered by his late wife, Joan, of holding a peach recipe contest. That grew to a now popular Peach Dessert Recipe Contest held on Friday evening. Other ideas continued to be tossed about the tent that night.
" ‘Why don't you run a cheerleading contest?' " Joan suggested to her husband.
And so, an event was born. It began in the early 1990s with Tyro youth football cheerleading contests and grew in popularity over the years. Today its many participants range in age from kindergartners to high school seniors. Cheerleading groups represent youth football, All-Stars and town community teams. Participants typically perform five-minute routines, with trophies given for first, second and third place.
"I was really amazed at how many people came to see the cheerleading -- mothers, fathers, brothers sisters, grandparents," said Wolfgang. "They filled the stands. We went to high schools the next year," he said, noting the event soon became a hit among area high schools -- Lewiston-Porter, Niagara Catholic, Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls High School -- and its interest has expanded to schools in Erie County and at times Ontario.
"It's a fun thing. What we really like about this is that it gives a chance for cheerleading groups to practice on stage before a crowd. It's not like the judging they go through for competitions. This gives them a chance to practice and have fun in front of a large crowd."
Sponsored by DiMino's Lewiston Tops Market, this year's competition gets under way at 5 p.m. Friday in the DiMino's Tops bandshell at Academy and continues to 8. "It's a great event, a great idea," commented Anthony DiMino, Lewiston Tops owner, Kiwanis member and a past chairman of the Peach Festival. "It's fun, with the girls, the guys competing. ... It keeps the community active, involved."
He and Kiwanis organizers invite Peach Fest visitors to stop over by the bandshell staging area for some exciting competition this Friday.
Over three days at the festival, there will be literally activities galore for visitors to partake in. Here's a sampling:
Parade grand marshals are Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour and Col. Allan Swartzmiller, commander of the 914th Airlift Wing. The parade is expected to continue until 2 p.m.
Events at Academy:
Sunday means still more activities of interest at the festival. The day leads off with a water-ski exhibit by the Neptune Waterski Club at 11 in the lower Niagara River, and continues at Academy Park with rides, games, foods, and plenty of peachy treats. The day's happenings include:
The day concludes with presentations and ceremonies, and with the crowning of the 2010 Peach Queen.
Visit the Kiwanis website.