If anyone's heading to Gulfport today to participate in its July 4th festivities, try to be on your best behavior. That's because a team of judges is in town to give it the once-over as part of the Rand McNally/USA Today "Best of the Road" rally.
Gulfport is one of six small towns in the running for "Best for Food."
Professional clowns Jim and Bonnie Parr of St. Petersburg are one of five teams, called Fun Finders, participating in the judging. They've been assigned to judge all of the towns in the category.
They arrived on Sunday, according to a news release, and will be staying and judging the town during today's festival. They have already visited several Gulfport businesses and have tried a sampler platter of Gulfport food at Peg's Cantina, according to Facebook posts and photos of their visit.
They are scheduled to ride in the Gulfport parade, which starts at 6 p.m.
The Parrs have already visited other towns in the contest, including Addison, W.Va., and Burnsville, Minn. They head to Lafayette, La., next and then on to Costa Mesa and Visalia, Calif. They are traveling in a specially marked silver Saab, which is on display at the classic car show at the Gulfport Fourth Festival.
The Road Rally ends at an event in Los Angeles on July 15, and the teams of judges will reveal the winners in the "Best for Food" category, as well as small towns in other categories including "Most Beautiful," "Most Patriotic," "Friendliest," and "Most Fun."
Organizers in Gulfport, not one to leave the judging to chance, arranged to have 15 Gulfport restaurants provide sampler plates promoting the contest with signature dishes. Participating through July 23 are Backfin Blue Café, Habana Café, Isabelle's at Peninsula Inn& Spa, Island Flavors and 'Tings, La Cote Basque Winehouse, O'Maddy's Bar and Grille, Peg's Cantina& Brew Pub, Neptune Grill, Pia's Trattoria, Smokin' J's BBQ, Stella's Deli, T & Me Tea Co., Tangelo's Grille, Village Pub and Yummy's Casual Café.
During their stay the Parrs will be escorted to participating restaurants, taking in the "Best of the Road" sampler plates along the way. They were also to receive a key to the city from Mayor Mike Yakes.