ELKHART — An annual back-to-school festival downtown not only kicked off the year with fun activities like bouncy houses and lip-sync battles but collected thousands of dollars worth of school supplies and struck a theme of unity before the two high schools merge next year.  

Ashley Boling Molyneaux, executive director of the Elkhart Education Foundation, estimated 5,000 people came to the foundation’s Kickoff Classic at Central Park based in part on the number of students in the bands and athletic teams. 

“In previous years, we’ve had an actual entrance, so we could take clicks as people came in,” Molyneaux said.

The theme of this year’s event was superheroes, because teachers are heroes to their community, Molyneaux said.

The event included a photo booth where attendees took pictures with people dressed as Spider-Man and Captain Marvel.

The Kickoff Classic started with a golf cart parade followed by a lip sync contest on stage at Central Park.

“I think it’s always special when you can get a positive cheer,” said Brian Buckley, Elkhart Central director of athletics. “You didn’t have the naysayer or the person that was hollering in the background anything negative.”

Buckley and Jacquie Rost, Elkhart Memorial athletic director, hosted the all-city pep rally. As Buckley and Rost introduced athletes and band members from both schools, each team ripped through a reusable banner as each Elkhart team and band walked to the stage,

With this being the last year before the city’s high schools merge, Rost told a story she heard about two friends who attended the rival schools and played against each other on Friday. At the end of the game, the Elkhart Central student told the Elkhart Memorial student that they were now teammates. Buckley also sounded a positive tone. 

“I think that’s important to know – that we’re a team and we’re trying to exemplify that and show that to other people, so that all of our coaches and kids will follow that lead and become teammates,” Buckley said.

Elkhart Central’s mascot, Mr. B, and Elkhart Memorial’s mascot, the Crimson Charger, faced off in a dance competition on stage. A couple of lip-sync battles between different sports teams also took place at the rally.

The bouncy houses were a hit.

“The lines were a little too long for the inflatables,” said Angela Todillo, an Elkhart attendee and a mother of three. “The games were pretty fun. The kids had lots of fun and it wasn’t too expensive.”

Admission was some kind of school supply – pencils, paper, erasers, notebooks, crayons. Molyneaux said the foundation received thousands of donations.

Elkhart Central band director David Elliot said the bands are also in the process of becoming one team.

“This event is critical for bringing together the community as we move toward the one high school,” Elliot said. “I think it’s going to be terrific for the music program to have a bigger student body to draw from and more opportunities to our students.”

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