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Metro Detroit Youth Day a chance for fun, learning

Payne Lubbers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Byrce Hill only came up once for air as he submerged his face in a warm peanut butter pie on Wednesday.

After being told he had just won a new bicycle for his victory over 10 of his peers in a pie-eating contest on Belle Isle, Hill had an important question for the judges: "Can I go eat the rest of my pie?"

Hill mounted his shiny neon-green bicycle and rode away from the small crowd that had gathered, one hand on the handle bar and balancing a pie in the other. "It was easy," he said. "I could eat another."

Activities like the pie-eating competition provided a distraction from the sweltering summer heat from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday on the island for thousands at the 37th annual Metro Detroit Youth Day. Youths aged 8-15 were encouraged to explore their interests.

The Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation hosted nearly 39,000 children at this year's event, a dramatic increase from the 1,100 who attended the inaugural event in 1981. Since then, more than 2 million children from Metro Detroit have participated. 

A variety of booths and and exhibits gave youths a chance to find something entertaining or educational. Kids could learn the basics of boxing, battle with remote-control robots, play catch or relax under a shady tree with their family.

Valeria Wessels, 7, of Detroit, a member of the Belle Isle Nature Camp, smiles as she makes a book mark at the Detroit Institute of Arts tent.

On the central stage, children joined Smiley the Hip Hop Clown for a dance-off and songs. 

In addition to entertaining youth, the event serves to connect kids to important institutions in their communities and across the state. Representatives from more than 10 Michigan universities lined up their tents in "College Row," and played games like corn hole while discussing education opportunities with parents. 

"The younger they are, the more familiar they are with higher ed, the better the possibility they will consider attending," said Tyrone Collins, an admissions counselor at Ferris State University in Big Rapids. "It's not so much where they attend, as long as they do attend."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer thanked event founder Ed Deeb for his organization's contribution to education. Since its founding in 1991, the Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation has awarded more than 1,700 scholarships to local students. 

"Because of this, we've got more lawyers and dentists and doctors. Kids who got on a path to a career they enjoy and give back to their community, and can make a good living," Whitmer said.

"It's been an opportunity to come enjoy the wonderful offerings we have as a state. To play sports, to see what the possibilities are, to learn robotics, to even get some help on homework. That's what this organization and this day is all about."

About 20 children gathered around a Detroit Fire Department truck to get misted with the fire hose to escape the heat. 

"We're just here letting them know they shouldn't be afraid of us," said Detroit firefighter Aaron McGuire. "Some kids think that we're scary, pulling up in the masks and all that. Just want to let them know we're their neighborhood friends."