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‘Jaws’ invades Punta Gorda

By BILL JONES

SUN CORRESPONDENT

It was a “happening.”

Some 3,000 people showed up Friday evening, on land, in boats and with all sizes, shapes and possible descriptions of flotation devices.

There were at least a thousand people in the water and some 2,000 more on land. Local Walmarts sold out of just about anything that floats.

People came from Tampa, Naples and points in between. One family sailed down from Nokomis. Another hailed from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Traffic backed up on the southbound 41 bridge as gapers slowed down to view the floatation armada. People parked anywhere they could find a space blocks away. Concessions were sold out an hour before the movie started.

The Punta Gorda Police Department likened traffic to that for the Fourth of July fireworks.

It was Crossroads Hope Academy’s production of “Jaws on the Water,” behind the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. Last year, just 80 people showed up.

Crossroads executive director John Davidson called the crowd “unbelievable.” PGPD marine officer John Kennedy, who ferried a Sun reporter for the evening, shook his head in awe and said, “We never expected anything like this.”

It was his job, along with PGD marine volunteers in another craft, and boat from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, to assure the safety of more than 100 boaters and hundreds of floaters and swimmers, packed together, in the dark.

Kennedy called the task “stressful.” He said “it could have been a nightmare, but everyone was conscientious. It was a big success.”

There were no swimming or boating mishaps, although one person was treated for a severe foot cut caused by an oyster shell.

The two biggest cheers from the water were when the movie started at 9:10, and when Jaws was finally blown out of the water at 11:10 as he closed in to devour the last hand on a boat that he had wrecked and was sinking.

“Jaws,” a Steven Spielberg epic about a giant great white shark terrorizing the New England waters in 1975, was the largest-grossing movie in Hollywood history, until surpassed by “Star Wars.”

Since it was 42 years old, many of the attendees had never seen it before, so the majority of boaters and floaters hung around until Jaws finally bit the dust, or in this case, the water.

Davidson acknowledged that he viewed the multitudes as “scary but exciting.” He said he was told this was the largest event in Punta Gorda history. “Things could have gone wrong,” he said, “but everyone was accommodating and friendly. We were blessed.”

He said planning with some of his board members for next year’s “Jaws on the Water” began right after the movie ended.

He said he was thankful for the exposure and that so many people asked him about Crossroads Hope Academy — a foster home and charter school east of Punta Gorda for hard-to-place foster boys — and how they could help with the venture in the future.

“Some donations were collected at the event,” he said, but he hoped the exposure could mean more in the future.

Donations may be made online at cross roadspg.org/donate.

Officials estimate some 3,000 people gathered on land and in the water for Crossroads Hope Academy’s production of “Jaws on the Water” Friday at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda.

SUN PHOTOS BY BILL JONES

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