HUNTINGTON - Each summer since 2012, Westmoreland residents have organized a festival in their neighborhood with various events for all ages, aimed at encouraging community camaraderie among locals.
Huntington's eighth annual Westmorlapalooza will take place Saturday, July 13, at Westmoreland Park on Vernon Street. The festival began nearly seven years ago in Westmoreland resident Daniel Wiles' back yard as a product of ideas from friends and family members, Wiles said.
Beginning at 10 a.m., the event will include the popular outdoor caged dodgeball tournament (in which participants are encouraged to dress up in costumes, and there are no rules prohibiting headshots), children's dodgeball and activities, a live sports auction, Heroes 4 Higher Batman and Bat Mobile, YMCA Kids in Motion, Mattie, E & 473 annual children's grab bag giveaways, the Project Westmoreland Toiletries Drive and more.
Admission to the festival is free, and there will be a concession stand with food and drinks from local businesses.
"The main attraction is the dodgeball tournament," Wiles said. "As far as I know, there are no other outdoor caged dodgeball tournaments like the way we do it."
The 4v4 caged dodgeball matches are more fast-paced and intense than normal dodgeball games, with fewer rules and featuring more fascinating traditions, as well as a custom netting system ensuring dodgeballs up to 15 feet high stay in play, Wiles said.
"It's kind of like the relationship between arena football and regular football," he said. "It's just non-stop action."
This year, the open tournament will feature between 24 and 32 teams, including teams of police officers, firefighters, construction workers and other local businesses and community members.
Over the years, the competition and popularity of the tournament have grown immensely, Wiles said.
"They're pretty much going to war inside the cage and being friends outside the cage," he said. "It basically just gives adults a reason to be kids for the day."
With friendly, spirited competition in the air and pride on the line, the focus of the festival remains firmly centered on community fellowship and empowerment, Wiles said.
"I mean, the grab bags are just awesome," he said. "When time comes at around 1:15, there will probably more than 100 kids lining up for them."
The Mattie, E & 473 annual children's grab bags are collected throughout each year by two Huntington police officers and their families, Wiles said. The bags include items like school supplies, books, shoes, toiletries, toys and various arts and crafts items.
In recent years, Westmorlapalooza has helped to shop and provide Christmas gifts for roughly 60 children in Cabell and Wayne counties and raised more than $4,000 for community projects. There are currently about seven youth organizations being considered for donations of roughly $3,500 in funds following this year's festival, Wiles said.
Michael Hupp, dodgeball coordinator for Westmorlapalooza, said he has helped with the festival since roughly 2013 and has witnessed the events explode with popularity.
While there are countless community groups and neighborhood associations and organizations in the area, Hupp said, it would be near-impossible to find one with as much of a direct impact on its community as Westmorlapalooza on Westmoreland.
"We actually see tangible results for the kid who needs basketball shoes, and maybe his parents have fallen on hard times and can't afford it," Hupp said.
Giving back to the community and encouraging camaraderie are essential features of Westmorlapalooza, he said.
"We are trying to make sure there are things going on year-round that the Westmoreland community can be proud of," Hupp said. "We go above and beyond to try to make sure everyone is taken care of and to make a positive impact."