By Donald Wittkowski
Tanner Moeller of Tuckahoe will have quite a story to tell her kindergarten classmates when she returns to the Upper Township Primary School after the holiday break.
The 5-year-old, pint-sized blonde got to hang out with not one, not two, but three superheroes during the New Year’s Eve community celebration at Sea Isle City’s former public school.
“I saw Wonder Woman, I saw Spider-Man and I saw Captain America. I was dancing with all of them,” Tanner said excitedly as her mother, Molly McKeefery, smiled.
Altogether, about 350 children, parents and grandparents gathered inside the former school’s gymnasium to celebrate the arrival of 2019 during a free, family-friendly party hosted by Sea Isle’s Division of Recreation and Municipal Alliance Committee.
“All people have to do is bring a beverage. We supply the food and the fun,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
For more than 20 years, Sea Isle has been giving local families an alcohol-free alternative to safely ring in the New Year.
“It’s a kid-friendly way to be able to celebrate the New Year,” said Bill Kehner Jr., an aide with the Division of Recreation.
Even the hours are conducive to children. The party gets underway at 5:30 p.m. and at precisely 7 p.m. the ball drops, Times Square like, from the top of a replica of the Empire State Building amid an enthusiastic “10, 9, 8 …” countdown from the kids.
“In just three minutes, we will say goodbye to 2018,” the DJ announced to the crowd at 6:57 p.m. to get everyone ready for the ball drop.
After the party ended at the former school at 7:30 p.m., revelers braved the rain to watch a fireworks display over the John F. Kennedy Boulevard beach that provided a loud and colorful welcome to the New Year at 8 p.m.
The children spent the evening dancing, singing, getting their faces painted and, of course, partying with the superheroes.
“The kids have a ball here,” said Joanne Fratantoro, who was accompanied by five of her grandchildren. “It’s such a nice way to celebrate the holiday without having to stay up late. Best of all, it’s free.”
Fratantoro, who lives in Mount Laurel and has a vacation home in Sea Isle, waited patiently while one of her granddaughters, Mayson Maskell, 2, had her face painted by artist Maddy Crowell. Mayson gave a loving hug to Crowell to thank her for creating a cute tiger face.
Matt Kuttler, whose family has owned the iconic Maryanne Pastry Shoppe in Sea Isle since 1944, recalled with a laugh how he used to spend his New Year’s Eves bar-hopping when he was in his 20s.
Now 37, Kuttler was enjoying New Year’s Eve on Monday night at the family-style party inside the former school. He was joined by his wife, Megan, 36, and his sons Matthew, 5, Michael, 4, Patrick, 3, and Kevin, 2.
“We used to do the bar scene, but now we’re much more family-oriented,” said Kuttler, who lives in West Conshohocken, Pa.
He joked that the hundreds of high-energy children jumping around and dancing in the gymnasium was “controlled chaos.” But he stressed that it was a safe, worry-free way for his entire family to celebrate the holiday.
“That’s the incredible thing,” Kuttler said. “That’s the best part of it.”