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Worthington 150: International Festival draws thousands to Worthington for first event

First festival focused on playing soccer.

Lion Dance
The Chinese ceremonial Lion Dance group works the crowd at the 28th annual Worthington International Festival Saturday afternoon, July 9, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Teamwork.

It’s what the game of soccer is all about. It’s also what made International Festival 1994 an overwhelming success on Sunday, July 17, 1994.

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Sponsored by the Worthington Cultural Diversity Coalition, the festival was intended as a celebration of the area’s cultures. It centered upon a soccer tournament, since the globe’s most popular sport is enjoyed by many of the diverse cultures in the Worthington area.

The teamwork involved in putting the festival together culminated Sunday morning, when volunteers began arriving at daybreak at Worthington Junior High School. In order to be ready by the 11 a.m. starting time, the volunteers began working shortly after 7 a.m.

“The setup itself was really something,” said Sara Taylor, one of the festival’s organizers. “Everyone worked together to make this happen.”

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Spectators nibbled on international delicacies such as crab rangoon, tamales, apple strudel, Greek delicacies and German pretzels as they watched the teams compete on the soccer fields. Others gathered on a grassy knoll overlooking the field to listen to a Laotian vocalist or Mexican folk band, or to watch the Tapestry of Youth, a local dance troupe.

Areas also were available to view ethnic crafts and for preschool-aged children to play. Both were busy for the duration of the festival.

Parade of flags
The flag bearer for Mexico gets the flag ready for the parade of flags at the opening of the 28th annual Worthington International Festival July 8, 2022.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Taylor said about 25 people were involved in the advance planning of the event. The weather cooperated perfectly for the festivities. Parking spots were hard to find, people lined up at the food stands at lunch time and a large crowd surrounded the soccer fields and other areas on the school grounds throughout the day.

Crowd estimates soared into the thousands, with between 1,000 and 2, 000 people on hand at the height of the festival.

“I think it was a great success and I think it can be an even greater success next year,” said Worthington Mayor Bob Demuth. “The food was good, the musical arrangements were good and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.”

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“You never know what to expect, but it (the turnout) was just about what I expected,” said Jerry Fiola, another organizer. “We’re hoping to make this an annual event and we’d like to see the thing grow even more.”

“This is by far the coalition’s most successful event thus far,” said Brian Emmel, a member of the Cultural Diversity Coalition who was involved in the planning. “And for the first time we’ve got a mixture of all the cultures together in one place.”

In 2022, the Worthington International Festival celebrated its 28th year. The celebration moved downtown to the Nobles County Government Center lawn years ago, where entertainers perform on stage, numerous ethnic groups set up tents with displays, and food trucks line Third Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets.

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