FREDERICKTOWN — It is fascinating what toys, treats or various sundry objects parents and other family members will use to entice babies to crawl toward a finish line at the Fredericktown Tomato Show. The babies do so on mats placed right in front of the main stage.
For Tahlia Groscost, a baby who won the 7-8 month old category, it wasn’t a Minnie Mouse stuffed animal she crawled toward on sturdy knees and small yet strong hands, or a handsome stuffed fox or even a jingling keychain. She was enthralled with a cold beverage that had a pretty red straw standing straight up out the top, held by a woman who was not her mom, that was supposed to entice another baby. Tahlia hails from Mansfield and is the daughter of Taylor Groscost and Kelley Groscost.
“She wanted the coffee,” dad Taylor Groscost said. Kelley and Taylor heard of the Baby Crawl from her aunt and uncle Jim and Patty Bertka of Mount Vernon.
“They come to the Baby Crawl every year and they love it,” Kelley said.
And why not. First prize in each age category is $15, along with $10 for second and $5 for third. Babies get gift bags with baby-size Tomato Festival shirts and some baby wipes to take home.
But let’s face it, several parents said — it’s all about the baby bragging rights. The Baby Crawl is so popular, in fact, with 30 babies “competing” in four age categories, there needed to be two heats of six babies each in the 9-10 month-old and 11-12 month old age brackets plus a final round for each. There were also 30 babies crawling last year, when the event got rained out. This time it remained cool and dry through the parents exhorting their babies to crawl to top status provided an animated display for sure. And well-wishers, those hundreds of audience members seated in the bleachers along North Main Street, loved every bit of a baby-fueled race.
“Oh yeah, this is big. They come out of the woodwork,” said Carol Ruggles, mother-in-law of Baby Crawl event organizer Leslie Ruggles, referring to enthusiastic baby contestants and happy, eager parents who registered near the main stage.
Babies who compete in the crawl don’t have to be from Fredericktown, so that puts some extra intrigue into the event. But so far the contestants are mostly local American babies.
“It’s open to the world,” Carol said. “That’s why we get so many contestants.”
Leslie Ruggles has organized the event the past five years because, quite frankly she said, she loves babies. She and her husband, firefighter/paramedic Dustin “Dusty” Ruggles, have two children, baby Dwight, age 3 months, who competed in the 0 to 6 months crawl category — when babies don’t do a whole lot of crawling — and daughter Shaylee, age 2.
Dusty won the event in 1984, when he figures he was about 8 months old, something his wife is proud of.
“It’s really cool because I’m a baby-delivery nurse at Knox Community Hospital,” Leslie said. “I delivered some of these babies here today.”
Chris Well, Tomato Show board president, helped register parents and their babies. The event has existed a long time and it has done well, whereas other festivals have tried Baby Crawls with less successful results.
“It works here for some reason,” Well said.