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Baaaa-da-bing! Check out Strawberry Festival's lamb costume contest

PLANT CITY

Moments before the show began, chaos reigned.

The queen tried to eat her bow, the leprechaun lost one of his orange eyebrows, and the doctor had an accident in his scrubs.

But no one seemed to care. These are farm animals, after all.

This is the Lamb Costume Contest at the Florida Strawberry Festival, where this kind of behavior is the norm. And, for some, a family tradition.

The Zimmermann family has been parading costumed sheep around the arena for decades.

"My husband did this when he was a kid," said Brittany Zimmermann, of Lithia. "Our son did it last year for the first time."

He even used one of his father's old costumes — a knight and his (lamb) dragon.

"The family had held on to it for almost 20 years," Zimmermann said.

This year, 6-year-old Eric dressed as a leprechaun and used green fabric and a sequin-covered top hat to transform his lamb into a good luck charm.

"He's a lucky sheep that gives us gold coins out of his ... um ... back end," Zimmermann joked.

That luck earned Eric and his lamb first place in the most creative category.

Two dozen students between the ages of 5 and 18 participated in the event Tuesday night. Most are FFA and 4-H members and raise the sheep for shows.

The costume contest is a chance to let loose.

"The state fair was three weeks ago and that was very intense," said Joe Squitieri, of Brandon, whose four children have all been involved in the competition. "This is more for fun."

The rules require students to dress themselves and their sheep in costume and then parade around the arena. Judges award ribbons in six categories: most funny, most elegant, most creative, most colorful, most original and best overall.

The costumes can be anything. On Tuesday night, those circling the arena included a clown and her balloon animal, a cowboy and his horse, pirates and princesses.

No one denies it's strange.

"When I first heard of this, I said, 'We're doing what with sheep?' " said Zimmermann.

But that doesn't seem to bother anyone.

"This is something the kids will always remember," said Donna Zimmermann, Eric's grandmother. "It's almost as good as Christmas morning."

Two of Squitieri's children are still young enough to participate. This year, he and his wife, Nancy, helped their son become a kung fu master with a panda sheep and their daughter transform into Princess Leia and an Imperial Walker sheep from Star Wars.

"It's fun. You get to come see old friends and make new friends," said Jessica Squitieri, 15, as she put the final touches on her Princess Leia costume. "And it's a good experience to have."

The family often starts brainstorming costume ideas over Christmas break, Joe Squitieri said. Then on the day of the contest, many participants spend hours preparing.

Except for a few occasional outbursts, the lambs stand still as ribbon, wigs and fabric are fashioned around them.

To be safe, Brittany Zimmermann waited until the last minute to attach the bright orange faux eyebrows, sideburns and beard to his lamb.

"He might try to eat them," she said.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401.

Baaaa-da-bing! Check out Strawberry Festival's lamb costume contest 03/06/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 2:54pm]
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