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Who's got the cutest little baby face?

September 19, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

HANCOCK - The winners in Widmeyer Memorial Park Sunday were not born yesterday, but some came pretty close. None of the 100 contestants was more than 3 years old.

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The annual Canal-Apple Festival's baby contest is a popular event that typically draws a crowd of chubby-faced cherubs. They cooed, cried, slept, slobbered, gurgled and grinned their way past a panel of four judges.

"How can you say one is better than the other, especially when you love kids?" asked Mary H. Stains, a Halfway Lions Club member who served as a judge. With as many as 22 kids in one category, decisions were difficult.

"It was tough," said Emment W. Stains, also a judge. "I'd like to give them all a prize."

The Hancock Lions Club sponsors the festival and invites judges from out of town to avoid conflicts of interest. The Rev. Darnell L. Layman and his wife, Mary H. Layman, also took on the difficult task of judging.

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The event had four categories for each gender based on age, as well as categories for best costume and youngest. Organizers said the contest has been held since 1980 and has drawn more than 120 entrants before.

The scene at the park's pavilion was almost like an outdoor maternity ward. Strollers and other baby paraphernalia were common in the crowd. The shrill sounds of babies' cries could be heard occasionally between announcements.

Many stood holding their sons and daughters in arms and a few sat with bottles tilted. Mothers and fathers came from at least three different states.

Shannon McKinley joked that her baby daughter prepared for the contest by watching the Miss America Pageant with her Saturday night. "It was her inspiration," the Hancock resident said.

McKinley's daughter took first place among females 6 months old or younger. "It makes me proud, but even if she didn't win, she's still No. 1 to me," the mother said.

Emmaleigh McKinley took her victory with graceful aplomb, wearing lace around her head and eyeing well-wishers. "She hasn't slept yet. I'm surprised she's acting this good," said her mother.

The event lasted about an hour after it began at 1 p.m., trying some parents' patience and the tempers of their toddlers. Diana McCarthy said her 3-month-old son, Devon, cried when she showed him to the judges.

"We had to wait a long time and he got fussy," she said.

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