At 2:30 in the afternoon, the swollen skies unleashed the rain, but organizers at the National Night Out (NNO) sat prepared with umbrellas and pop-up awnings at Green Valley Park.
Still, the weather brought back memories of last year’s canceled event. Some drenched families quickly packed up coolers and camp chairs and scurried off to cars. A line of vehicles waited to turn onto Main Street to take their occupants out of the rain.
But hardier souls simply sat under cover and watched the deluge.
Children donned bathing suits and jumped into puddles, laughing and telling their parents, “I don’t mind if I get wet!”
Still, the dunk tank sat unused while the water slide didn’t need the hose turned on to work. Meanwhile, the band continued to play.
“Put your hands together for Junction 87!” blared Officer Lorenzo Ortiz’s voice from the speakers as the band finished. The crowd clapped in appreciation. “Hey, thanks for putting up with the rain. We can handle this — it’s nothing like last year,” said Ortiz.
Ortiz has organized Payson’s National Night Out for the last four years. He expected the rain, but prayed they’d be prepared.
This year marks the 28th annual celebration of the National Night Out. NNO was started by the nonprofit group National Association of Town Watch (NATW) in 1984 to engage more residents in the crime watch community. In NNO’s first year, 400 communities in 23 states participated in the program. Last year, 37 million people in 15,100 communities from the 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories, military bases and Canada participated in the program.
Originally, the concept was to inspire community watch groups to encourage neighborhood residents to turn on their lights at sunset and sit on a porch vigil.
Since that original idea, communities have expanded on the program to include block parties, cookouts, parades, visits from the police, festivals, neighborhood walks, safety fairs, contests, rallies and meetings. (For more information see www.nationalnightout.org).
By 3 o’clock, the rain had tapered off enough for Team X-Yo, a local group of high school and junior high boys who have a passion for yo-yoing to present their moves accompanied by energetic music. A crowd gasped at the intricate maneuvers for half an hour before the famous fire-police relay rally.
“We’re about to start the annual fireman-police relay competition. Please stay off the sidewalk while the race is on,” said Ortiz. For the last four years, the police had lost to the firemen, but this year the police had hired younger officers upping the stakes, said Ortiz.
The first leg of the race included older members of the fire and police departments using walkers to walk up an incline of the path leading up around the grassy bowl surrounding the band shell. They each handed off their batons to a younger member of the fire and police who then sprinted to the top of the bowl, handing off their baton to two firemen and two policemen tied together by one leg. These three-legged racers then passed off their baton to the fastest members of the group to sprint to the end. This year the police won, breaking the four-year losing streak.
“My favorite thing about organizing the National Night Out is I get to interact with the public outside of my regular police work,” said Ortiz.
The remainder of the day’s activities included a canine and swat team demonstration. The event ended with a performance by the band The Technicolors amid clear skies.