COLUMBIA — Standing in front of the strongman striker, 6-year-old Gabriel Forte held onto his mallet firmly and hit the lever hard.
But the bell at the top didn’t ring.
He turned around to his father and said, “I messed up,” but the first grader didn’t give up. He gave it another try, and this time a clear, loud noise echoed in the playground of Lee Expressive Arts Elementary School.
Lee held its annual carnival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Entry was free, though most of the games cost two or three tickets, which were five for $1. Children jumped in a bounce house and played wheel of chance, water balloon games and others. Children could earn tickets for playing the potato sack race or milk bottle knockdown.
Gabriel’s father, David Forte, a father of three sons, has attended 11 carnivals. He said the event was a great opportunity for families to have fun in the sun. He also liked that there were free games.
“Even if people don’t have a lot of cash on hand, there’s still a way for their kids to earn some tickets and have fun," Forte said.
Next to a caramel apple bob and build booth, which was one of the new additions to this year’s carnival, Jennifer Perlow scraped cotton candy off a machine.
Perlow, who was volunteering for the fourth time, said she enjoyed her role because it was not a task everybody wanted to do. “It’s really sticky,” she said, making a grimace.
“I also like doing this because everybody is happy when they get cotton candy, right?” Perlow said.
A few steps from the cotton candy booth, children and parents lined up to get their faces painted. Caden Mildenhall, 7, sat on a chair and whispered the word "football" when Sara Placke, a first-time parent volunteer at the carnival, asked what pattern he wanted on his cheek.
Walking around and talking to various parent volunteers, Andrea Hunting, coordinator of this year’s carnival, made sure everything was in place.
“I really wanted an opportunity to get involved,” she said. “Although there were moments of stress to plan everything out, it has also been really, really fun.”
Children traded tickets for prizes after playing games. Prizes started at one ticket and included mini comic books, balloons, suckers and little toys. The owner of Sparky's Homeade Ice Cream donated iced treats.
Hunting said parents donated all of the prizes. “We didn’t ask for new toys, many of them were gently used ones.”
Hunting said all of the ticket sales, minus expenses, would go to Parent-Teacher Association funds, but the carnival was not a fundraiser.
“This is more of an event, not necessarily to make money off of, but just to get the families together and have a great time," Hunting said.