Boo! Gulfport’s Halloween Bash a Hit

Pictured are the participants for the family category of the costume contest reacting to the seven-member group from Gulfport that won first place for their portrayal of the theme Alice in Wonderland. Jennifer Dunning is dressed as the Queen of Hearts, right of center, while Harrison Dunning is the Mad Hatter, Georgia Dunning, back, is Tweeledee, Caroline Dunning, is Tweedledum, Eliza Dunning, 4, is Alice and is sitting on the shoulders of her hidden dad, Chris Dunning. Jason Durfee is the rabbit. “At tot time 13 years ago, her sister did Alice just by herself,” said Jennifer Dunning. “We kept that costume and added all the family to it” for this year. And for next year? The family is expecting a baby boy so they’ll have to come up with an eight-person theme idea.

Gulfport’s annual free Spooktacular Halloween Bash delighted about 700 participants with a custom haunted house, a Boo Room for tots, mid-way carnival-style games, a trunk-or-treat area in the parking lot and a costume contest with open-air stage for all ages on Tuesday, October 31.

The traditional holiday event was held at the city’s Recreation Center from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Three people judged the costume contest that had seven age categories and one for family group costumes. Artsy and hand-made costumes were priorities for each judge.

Enthusiasm and choreography by participants was also considered.

“Personality. When a kid works a costume, you know they’ve got it,” said Councilperson Yolanda Roman, a contest judge for three years who collaborated with first timers Kimberly Harker, of Gulfport, and Leslye Townsend of St. Petersburg.

Three people judged the costume contest. Pictured from left are Leslye Townsend of St. Petersburg, Kimberly Harker of Gulfport and Gulfport Councilperson Yolanda Roman. “Personality. When a kid works a costume, you know they’ve got it,” said Roman. Townsend and Harker both agreed that “artsy and hand-made costumes” were also priorities.

Winners received bragging rights and a trophy or ribbon. Each first place winner also received a gift certificate from an area business.

The event was supported by the city of Gulfport along with 14 local groups and businesses.

“Clown Zombies” was the theme for the haunted house this year and the concept was created by Jamie Rowell, the current staff assistant at the Rec Center along with Nicole Latragna who was the staff assistant for 16 years, said Marivel Guiterrez, Rec Center supervisor. “The maze was totally updated.”

About 20 people participated as costumed characters for the haunted house including city employees and Stetson University law school students who volunteer to acquire pro bono hours, said Guiterrez.

Joanne McRoberts and Kimberly Titara, who are both pre-school teachers for the Recreation Center, created the Boo Room.

Jessica Marichal, a third-year Stetson law student from Cuba, left, portrays a costumed character in the haunted house inspiring both screams and giggles from participants. “It was horribly scary!” said Shanon Stovell of St. Petersburg as she laughed. Dressed as a Care Bear, Stovell and her son, Ari Sylvester, 4, dressed as Bat Man, survived the toxic room. “He was petrified, but he liked it. He wants to do it again!”

The haunted house takes a little over two weeks to build, said Brian Van Slyke, crew leader for the city’s Parks Department.

About 10 employees from the Parks and Building Maintenance departments built three rooms and three main hallways in the haunted house maze while the Rec Center staff did all the decorating, said Van Slyke. Employees’ family members and past employees also volunteer to help.

Attendees come mostly from Gulfport, St. Petersburg, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach, said Alton Hooker, recreation leader for the city. “We put on a Class A show and it’s free. At one time, one of our employees used to work at Bush Gardens and he would come up with some good designs for scare zones. Participants would scream and run. He’s here tonight and has helped with decorating and props.”

The haunted house “has been going on for more than 10 years,” he said. “Adults and kids look forward to it.”

The theme for next year is aliens. “As soon as this one is over, we start planning for the next.”



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