By Jim Sullivan
---- — It was in with the old and in with the new at Bartlet Mall yesterday as Olde Fashioned Sunday kicked off this year’s Yankee Homecoming amidst antique cars, a family midway and some professional wrestling.
“It’s going great,” said Olde Fashioned Sunday co-chair Paul Swindlehurst, who thanked his army of 40 volunteers who came out to make the event happen.
“We have a ton of families that were here early on. People are lined up for the carnival games and the inflatables. The rain is holding off, we are having a great day.”
A big hit this year was the first-ever Atlantic Pro Wrestling Yankee Homecoming family-friendly extravaganza, where over 30 grapplers vied for three championships.
“We’re having a great time,” said manager Big Woody, who offered $5,000 to anyone in the audience who could body-slam him. “The crowd is having a great time. It’s a great turnout. We’re having a blast.”
Color commentator Johnny Fabulous, aka John Cena Sr., didn’t take to someone addressing him as the master of ceremonies.
“I am not the master of ceremonies,” declared Cena, with tongue in cheek. “I am the master of wisdom and genius. Let me tell you; don’t address me as color commentary (either.) I am the man. (And) Yankee Homecoming is outstanding. I’ve never seen so many people coming out for such an event. This is truly amazing. Now, in terms of the people from Newburyport, never have I seen a greater assembly of idiots in my life.
“But Newburyport and Yankee Homecoming, all kidding aside,” continued Cena. “You’ve got to be here to enjoy it. It’s a wonderful take. If you miss it, you’re missing something great. A lot of people, a lot of fun.”
“Big Stiff” Mike was crowned the first Yankee Homecoming champion after defeating Johnny Vegas; and the heavyweight champion, Demon Ortiz, successfully defended his title against “Brand New, Bad” Todd Hanson. “Big Gun” Jim Sergeant also retook his APW New England championship from Dijack with the help of his little brother, “Lil’ Gun.”
“He stole my title from me last month,” Sergeant said of Dijack. “I just won it back. This crowd is hot and it is awesome to do it. They are so into it and behind us. You couldn’t ask for more.”
Newburyport’s Keith Bridges took in the show with his sons, Jerry, 3 and Ryan, 6.
“I heard the music and it brought us over here,” said Bridges. “It’s cool, it’s a change. It’s neat. The kids like it. It keeps them entertained and busy.”
“I like the slams,” said Ryan.
Luke Iandoli, 12, was up from Barre watching the wrestlers battle it out. “It’s pretty cool,” Iandoli said. “I’m interested in wrestling.“
On the other side of the Mall, antique car coordinator Jack Gagne was overseeing over 30 classic and antique cars as part of his sixth Olde Fashioned year. Gagne said that the military Jeeps assembled from World War II and the Korean conflict were some of the biggest draws this year.
“They were actually in the wars,” Gagne said of the Jeeps. “Everything seems to be all right. The crowd is good as it always is. It’s about the same every year.”
Among the vehicles on display was Kevin Winn’s blue 1953 Dodge Coronet.
“We enjoy coming down, setting the car up and putting the chairs out in the back,” said Winn. “The people really take a lot of interest in the cars. They show their kids and tell them that this is what cars used to be. They tell them to check out the trunk and the inside and what the engine looks like.”
One favorite event for locals, the canoe tilting, was unfortunately not on the agenda this year.
“We had planned to do canoe tilting this year,” said Swindlehurst. “But the Bartlet Mall Commission asked us to hold off because the water quality is not where they wanted it to be. And we hope that the water is in shape for next year to be able to do it then for both the canoe tilting and for the boat rides from Lowell’s Boat Shop.”
“I thought I could maybe be in it this year,” Rupert Nock middle school student Aiden Guthro said of the canoe tilting. “It is kind of disappointing. But I love being here, it’s always fun.”