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Brooksville skips Regis to cheer falling tangerine

New Yorkers can keep their Waterford Crystal ball.

Several hundred Brooksville residents turned off their televisions New Year's Eve and brought in the the New Year in Tom Varn Park. They cheered a giant, lit orange orb and toasted to prosperity and health with orange juice.

The third annual Tangerine Time New Year's Eve Party at the Jerome Brown Center in Tom Varn Park drew its biggest crowd ever, with more than 450 Hernando County residents.

"It went flawlessly; everything was great," said event organizer Karen Phillips, Brooksville city clerk. "Everybody had a great time."

The inspiration for Tangerine Time came from Wayne Vutech, Archer Painting owner. Vutech decided Brooksville needed a local New Year's Eve celebration, but he also wanted to preserve a memory of Brooksville's claim to fame, as tangerine capital of the world, a title stolen by years of citrus freezes.

Thus the first Tangerine Time celebration was born Dec. 31, 2002, a far smaller, hokier and a bit precarious event, organizers said.

Inclement weather dropped rain and hail on the first New Year's Eve tangerine, an orange vinyl balloon.

"I was worried we wouldn't have a tangerine to drop," Vutech said.

Last year, Brooksville city employees looked into their closets for a more reliable solution and found a steel-framed globe of the world used to adorn floats in city parades. The globe is about 6 feet in diameter and promises to withstand rain and hail for many years to come. Sun Pools of Brooksville donated the globe's tangerine skin by stretching orange fiberglass around it.

This year's additions included more lights, a blinking 2005 sign and a countdown clock.

"It's sturdier and more professional," Phillips said of the 50-pound tangerine.

As word spread of the alcohol-free event, Tangerine Time has blossomed into an annual tradition for many families. Many attendees confirmed they had heard about the event from friends or neighbors.

"It's so awesome to come to something alternative with your entire family and not have to worry getting home safely," said Margo Bednar-Kemper, a Brooksville resident and veteran of Tangerine Time, who brought her son Jamie and her husband, James. "It's a little different and bigger this year."

Dozens of sugar-infused children, many sporting face-painted moustaches, bounced around on giraffe spacewalks when they weren't playing games or gobbling goodies.

"This is what New Year's Eve is all about," said Julia Jinkens of Brooksville. "It's so nice to see fathers playing with their children. And all these families coming together and having a good time."

Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.

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