BILOXI -- Kids and parents alike waved and shouted Sunday as a helicopter dropped Easter eggs at MGM Park for egg hunts that otherwise drew heavy criticism from parents who complained of chaos and poor organization.
The Biloxi Main Street Association, which organized the first-ever Easter Egg Drop at the baseball stadium, learned several things very quickly. One in particular: If a helicopter drops eggs in a large field of grass, they will come. By the thousands.
Excited, bright-eyed children hoped to fill their baskets with plastic eggs containing treats or cards for larger prizes, such as bicycles or Shuckers tickets. There were equally excited parents, including many who ignored repeated instructions to stay off the outfield and let children hunt by themselves.
Many children in the youngest age division, 2 to 4, found no eggs at all. Others walked off the field with overflowing baskets. In the next age division, some parents sneaked in older children to hunt eggs with much smaller children. Some children cried. Many parents left with loud complaints, and without allowing their children to meet the Easter bunny, jump in inflatable bouncy houses or play a game of ring-toss.
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"We apologize on behalf of Biloxi and the sponsoring organization, Biloxi Main Street," city spokesman Vincent Creel said.
"Biloxi Main Street wanted to provide a fun-filled family event for Easter for children and their parents," Creel said. "It was definitely a learning experience."
Main Street enlisted a helicopter crew from the Harrison County Sheriff's Office to drop more than 12,000 eggs, making passes at the ballfield before each of three age divisions were allowed to hunt. Admission was free. Children's activities outside the stadium also were free.
"It certainly wasn't our intention to make children cry or to make parents angry," Biloxi first lady Serena Gilich said. "I had a child out there who didn't get an egg either."
Gilich, wife of Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich, stood outside the lone gate used as an entrance and exit and tried to appease as many parents as she could.
"We're trying right now to fix the glitches as best we can," she said.
Children were given color-coded arm bands indicating their age division.
Hundreds of people packed tightly against an outer gate, waiting to pack in against a nearby gate to the outfield. Parents were repeatedly told they could not get on the grass with their children during the egg hunt, and were told to file in against the back fence as their children readied for the dash to seek for eggs. A public-address system was used at first, but it malfunctioned. Instructions were later given out by police at the inner gate and volunteers who spoke to those waiting near the gate.
"It was chaos. A disgrace," said Ashley Hadley of Biloxi. She said her children were trampled and didn't get any eggs.
"I'll never come back," Hadley said.
Creel told the Sun Herald, "There were no reports of injuries, but only injured feelings."
Creel said city officials will meet with organizers to make sure next year's event goes more smoothly.
"I think the organizers were overwhelmed by the crowd," he said.
Using more than one gate could help ease congestion, he said, adding it's possible parents could be allowed to sit in the stands to watch the egg hunt.
Not all parents were upset, though.
Among them were Annie Rose Whidby, who brought her two children.
"Once they (organizers) get over problems with the execution, it should be an exemplary, awesome event," Whidby said.
Sheryl Graham, who also brought two children, said she could understand it was "a first time event" and said "trial and error" can make it better.
Jill Crump's youngest child found no eggs, but someone they knew gave her a couple from their basket.
"She's just 2," said Crump, of Biloxi.
"She was fine," her mother said. "She's just having a good time."
Megan Baldwin of Gulfport said she and her husband brought their three children to enjoy time together as a family.
"It's free," Baldwin said. "We came with our minds made up that we were going to have a fun time. What's patience, after all?"