MATTOON — Youngsters decked out in peace signs, hearts, tie-dye colors and hippie-themed outfits took center stage Tuesday and Wednesday night during the annual Beautiful Bagel Babies contest.

Many of the participating parents dressed their children up to match the "Peace, Love & Bagels" theme of this year's Bagelfest and the Bagel Babies contest, which took place at the Cross County Mall.

For example, 6-month old Matt Ritz of Effingham won in the contest category for boys ages newborn to almost 1 Wednesday night while wearing a sleeveless neon green T-shirt with a black peace sign, silver heart, and the word "bagels" on it. He also sported a pair of sunglasses.

Matt's cheering section included his parents, Alex and April Ritz; and his grandparents, Vicki Wenthe, and Ken and Connie Ritz.

April Ritz said her mother arranged to have the Bagelfest images heat pressed onto the shirt just in time for the contest. As soon as April Ritz listened to a Bagel Babies advertisement, she said she knew that Matt needed to enter this contest.

"I heard it on the radio and I thought, 'My baby is cute,'" Ritz said, as Matt smiled happily nearby. She and her husband both work in Mattoon.

Wednesday night, 7-month-old Layla Smith of Mattoon won the Bagel Babies contest category for girls ages newborn to almost 1 while wearing a brown top and matching headband, plus a multicolored skirt.

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Her parents, Charlie and Emma Smith, said the skirt was made out of blouse from an old Halloween costume.

Charlie Smith said he and his wife have been going to Bagelfest events throughout their lives, so they decided to carry on the tradition by entering Layla in the Bagel Babies contest.

He said one of their favorite Bagelfest activities is going to Peterson Park at night when all the carnival rides are glowing with lights.

"It's a nice little reminder of your hometown," Smith said.

Wednesday night's portion of Bagel Babies focused on ages newborn to almost 1 due to nearly half of 101 available spots in the contest this year being filled by this age group. The other age groups took part in the contest Tuesday night.

The winners of the other contest categories were: ages 1 to almost 2, Delilah Bush and Alaryc Myers, both of Mattoon; 2 to almost 3, Sophia Easton of Charleston and Sawyer Hansen of Mattoon; and 3 to almost 4, Jazmyne Burks of Mattoon and Zanden Smith of Charleston.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud



Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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