When you're 5, very few things are more exciting than fireworks.
Just ask Ja'von White.
He was one excited kid.
“The downtown fireworks is the best in my life,” he said while the pink-and-blue explosions erupted overhead. “All the colors are nice. Orange, yellow, blue, green. All the colors in the air get me so excited.”
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The Toledo boy, accompanied by his mother, Christy Knappins, 28, was among the tens of thousands of people who gathered on either side of the Maumee River at Promenade and International parks for the annual Red, White, KABOOM fireworks.
The show, which started at about 10:15 p.m., was just part of Jalela Henderson’s weeklong 18th birthday celebration.
For the teen, whose birthday is today, Thursday was her first time at the fireworks, as it was for her friends Maia and D'Antje Colvin, 16 and 19, and Nashelle Hollinger, 20.
“I’m new to this and I’m excited already,” Ms. Henderson said while the four friends waited for the show to start.
Earlier in the day, a patriotic and surprise-filled homecoming took place at Fifth Third Field before the Mud Hens game. The Mud Hens’ front office told the family of CPO David Schuster, a Berkey resident who was to return this week from a nine-month tour of duty, that their son had been chosen for a “hometown heroes” honor plaque, which they were to receive on his behalf before the game.
What Pat and and Tim Ricard didn’t know was that while they were watching a video on the big screen that Chief Petty Officer Schuster had taken on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, their son was waiting on the field with their granddaughters to surprise them when they turned around.
“At that point, I was hoping they didn’t turn around [during the video],” Mr. Schuster said. “Seeing them watch the video I took on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier I sent a few days ago, I was excited that it would be a good surprise for them.”
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His mother, Pat Ricard, was brought to tears by the event.
“They told us [my son] was getting a ‘hometown heroes’ award — a plaque with his name on it. So that’s what I thought I was coming here for.”
But there was no such engraved recognition to be had — instead, she was treated to a reunion with her son.
“I haven’t seen him in almost two years, so it was nice to see him. I miss him,” she said through tears.
Mr. Schuster, who is a single father to two girls, Caely, 8, and Mia, 3, said the event “was unexplainable. I’ve never done anything like that before in my life. To surprise someone to that degree was amazing. It was as heart-warming to be the person involved in a military homecoming as it is to watch it on TV. It is just amazing.”
The sailor has served with the Navy for 13 years, and was deployed in the Persian Gulf and in the South Arabian Sea in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan. The squadron to which he is attached is going through a transition right now that may take six months to a year to complete. He’ll be home for a short time, then go to the state of Washington for training as his ship is refitted to handle different airplanes.
The sports fan said among the first things he wanted to do while he is stateside was catch a baseball game. “I told everyone one of the first things I’m going to do is go to a baseball game. There’s not much TV to watch on a ship, and I’m a sports fanatic. I miss my football and I miss my baseball. I can’t see football right now, but baseball definitely is in season. I root for Detroit, and I root for the Texas Rangers as well. And for today, the Mud Hens — absolutely.”
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Meanwhile, when it came time for the main attraction of the day — the fireworks — twins Destiny and Winston Tromble found prime seats along the wall of the Maumee River at Promenade Park. The 7-year-olds, with their parents Kevin and Tracy, could not wait for the fireworks to start.
“They have sparkle stuff. And different colors,” said Destiny who, with her parents, come to the river every year for fireworks.
Red, White, KABOOM veterans, the Tromble family anticipated the large crowds, though their hours-early arrival was overshadowed by hardcore fireworks goer Nikki Rodriguez.
Ms. Rodriguez, 19, of Toledo was so bent on getting her family’s spot that she showed up at 10 a.m., not realizing that the festivities didn't start until 6 p.m.
“It’s tradition,” she said. “We come every year.”
This year, with her family recently moved to Georgia, Ms. Rodriguez was with a group of her friends that walked around to take in the sights and sounds, after other people finally started to show up.
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The group of teens, all former classmates at the Toledo School for the Arts, were decked out in red, white, and blue.
That is, everyone except for Natalie Gray, 17, of Toledo, who was wearing a pineapple sundress.
But, she reasoned, what’s not American about fruit?
The grand finale turned the otherwise clear nighttime sky into a smoke-filled pink haze and pumped up a fairly quiet crowd.
During the final explosions, Ja’von jumped to his feet.
“Yay!” he shouted, pumping a fist into the air. “Fourth of July, everybody!”
Blade sports writer John Wagner contributed to this report.