Tonawanda News

January 30, 2014

In celebration of winter

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Call it a cabin-fever reliever. 

The City of Tonawanda Winterfest will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Tonawanda Middle/High School complex on Fletcher Street, marking the fourth year of an event that started — and continues — as a way for families to get out and be active during the coldest time of the year.

“It’s grown. I just picked up the basketball slips and we have maybe 30 teams,” said event chairwoman and founder Elizabeth Olka. “We have a lot to do to schedule this, but it’s good because it’s growing, and I’m pretty happy it’s grown so big.”

This year’s Winterfest, hosted by the Tonawanda Central PTSA in conjunction with the Tonawanda Soccer Club, the City of Tonawanda Youth Board, the DPW and the Recreation Department,  will include returning activities such as the three-on-three basketball competition and snow sculpture contest, as well as some new features, such as a three-on-three soccer competition and hockey skills activity. 

Other events include a chili cook-off, a Chinese auction featuring 65 to 70 baskets, movies playing in the auditorium, free swim time in the pool, crafts and games.

Winterfest started in 2011 when PTSA members approached then-recreation director Linda Foels and then-Mayor Ron Pilozzi about starting a seasonal event, Olka said.

“It was, ‘What can we do for these kids in the wintertime?’ The city’s always been helpful with this,” she said. “That’s how it began. It started simply because there’s not much for us to do in the wintertime here.”

What has made the event manageable during its growth has been the addition of other community organizations to the mix, Olka said. The Youth Board will be presenting this year’s chili cook-off, while the Boys & Girls Club will present scooter volleyball and face painting. The Recreation Department will present the crafts and hockey skills components. The National Guard and fire department Explorers will also have a presence.

“Now it’s not only an event for our community, these other organizations are coming out, which I think is great,” Olka said.

This year, the basketball competition is open to those in grades six through 12, while the soccer competition is open to younger students. The latter will be presented by the Tonawanda Soccer Club.

Club president Aaron Kisloski said the club, which is under all new management, will be running the tournament for children in three grade groups: Prekindergarten through first grade, grades two and three and grades four and five. There are about 20 teams registered.

“It’s nice, especially for the kids,” he said. “The whole idea is to get the kids out and doing something they can’t do at home. It’s a good way to do it.”

Kisloski said the club will also have a registration table at the event, with discounts available to anyone who registers that day.

All the Winterfest events are free, although tickets will be for sale for the Chinese auction or the food and drinks available at the THS Café. 

There will also be a chili cook-off open to the public, with bowls of chili available for 50 cents each. Those who wish to participate must drop off their chili in a slow cooker between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. that day. Judging starts promptly at 2 p.m. There will be prizes for the first-place winners in the traditional and non-traditional categories. For more information or to enter the contest, contact Blake Boyle at 930-9764.

Winterfest is entirely volunteer-driven and open to anyone, Olka said.

“Anyone from the community can come and enjoy something outside of their house,” she said. “It was big (in the beginning), but now it’s grown to something more.”

IF YOU GO • WHAT: Winterfest 2014 • WHEN: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday • WHERE: City of Tonawanda Middle/High School, Fletcher Street • COST: Admission and most activities are free. Tickets will be for sale for the Chinese auction, food and drinks.