GULFPORT — Singles 39 and older can take a gamble on making a love connection or making new friends at the 2nd Annual Match Making Festival this afternoon at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom.
Last year's festival attracted about 100 singles. This year the organizers hope to double that number for more chances of making connections, whether romantic, friendly or simply networking.
Ani Crane, the matchmaking muse and psychic queen of fun of Gulfport, got the idea from BBC News.
"The farmers in Ireland who want to find a wife dedicate a whole weekend to a matchmaking festival, so, I thought, I'm going to do that right here in Gulfport."
Crane teamed up with Latoya Brown, who often hosts speed dating events, to produce the matchmaking fest.
There will be appetizers, slow dances, salsa lessons, games, prizes, a cupid 50/50 lotto, speed dating and short workshops.
"I think people take it to a dark place sometimes," said Brown about being alone on Valentine's Day. "This is something you can come out and do in the hopes of finding somebody; it's a fun outing at the very least."
The turnout last year was seven women for every man. So this year on Facebook the event is titled: "Single Men: The Odds Are in Your Favor."
Rodney Bennett, 40, who attended last year, is bringing along some friends this time. "If they have the kind of turnout they had last time, it's going to be lucky for the guys," he said.
"The dance classes gave us the opportunity to mix and mingle without being pressured. We got to know people's names, so by the time we got to the speed dating part, we already knew everybody and talking to them was much easier," Bennett said.
As emcee, Al Bagdonas will keep things moving with the speed dating and announcing a lot of women's choice dances.
"I want to make sure people feel comfortable circulating. It's hard to come up to someone sitting at a table. I'm going to ask them to stand up and mix. I've got a number of ideas that came to me after last year's event to encourage shy people to be more confident," Bagdonas said.
No one seems to know if relationships formed and lasted from last year's event, but Bagdonas said he could tell that there were some sparks during the speed dating and a few people would have stayed talking longer if they could have.
One lucky lady will win lunch or dinner with a firefighter (proceeds go to Save the Manatees).