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Water balloon battle raises funds for Pembroke

Children get their opponents wet during Pembroke’s Great Water Balloon Fight on Tuesday, including Cara Clifford, 5, (below) who nervously bit down on one of her balloons before the conflict started.

Photos by Debee Tlumacki for The Boston Globe

Children get their opponents wet during Pembroke’s Great Water Balloon Fight on Tuesday, including Cara Clifford, 5, (below) who nervously bit down on one of her balloons before the conflict started.

PEMBROKE — The game-time temperature Tuesday was 95 degrees.

It was, said Kyle Harney, one of the organizers of the town’s second annual Great Water Balloon Fight, “ideal conditions” for the event.

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“I’ll be honest,” said a sweltering Harney as he prepared for the influx of children and parents onto the playing field behind the Pembroke Community Center. “I’m hoping the kids forget about each other and throw them at me.”

The old-fashioned water balloon fight was organized as a fund-raiser this year to benefit Pembroke’s annual tree lighting, to be held on Dec. 8. Last year, the watery battle was first held as part of the town’s 300th anniversary celebration, and an estimated 6,000 balloons were launched.

Tuesday was the last day of school in Pembroke, and about 100 children ranging from kindergartners to middle-schoolers all channeled their inner Johnny Damons as they came armed to the teeth with water-filled balloons of all colors, shapes, and sizes. (Damon, the former Red Sox star, and wife Michele Mangan won lasting infamy for tossing water balloons from the 34th-floor terrace of the Ritz Carlton apartments in Boston after the Sox won the 2004 World Series.)

The pregame preparations were intense. This year the event became BYOB — bring your own balloons — after Harney and real estate partner and co-organizer Kathleen Keegan learned the hard way last year: They spent the weekend before last year’s fight filling up 5,200 balloons — and filling up a small children’s swimming pool along the way — but about half of them popped by the night before the event, forcing them to fill up even more balloons.

“It was painful,” said Keegan. “But we learned from our mistakes.”

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This year competitors were urged to store and carry their balloons in coolers. Harney and Keegan also set up a PVC pipe with small openings — spigots — that allowed competitors to attach balloons and fill them with water on site.

About a half-hour before the 3:30 p.m. start, parents and children started arriving with their carefully stored missiles, each child paying $3 to join the fun. Harney said later the event raised $250 to $300 for the town.

Michelle LeClair of Middleborough, who is building a home in Pembroke, brought her 8-year-old twins, Madeline and Ryan.

Ryan recommended the “human shield” strategy for success.

“You throw your balloons and then you hide behind someone else,” he said.

Parent Erin Swift of Pembroke had set ground rules for the three youngsters in her charge, all returning veterans of last year’s fight: “No hits in the face and none below the belt.”

Michele Cooper of Pembroke had 125 balloons to be distributed among five combatants: daughters Rose, 11, and Lily, 6, and son Richard, 13, as well as friends Ava Campbell, 11, and Elise McKillop, 6.

Rose, the cagey one, adopted what might be called the Battle of Bunker Hill “hold your fire until you see the whites of their eyes” strategy.

“You wait until everyone else has thrown their balloons, and then you throw yours,” she said.

Best buddies Kory Lawson and Jason DiNardo, both 9, lugged a cooler with 150 balloons to the starting area, ready for mayhem.

Bathing suits and shorts were de rigueur as the youngsters readied for battle. There were many “practice tosses,” usually resulting in older children beaning their younger brothers or sisters.

The fight was divided into three age categories — kindergarten through Grade 2, grades 3 through 6, and grades 7 and above.

The combatants gathered on one side of the field or the other, with a line of plastic cones marking out a no-man’s land to keep combatants from getting too close to each other. There was even a modicum of trash talk before Keegan, who emceed the event, gave the signal to begin, and chaos ensued for about eight action-packed minutes.

The best action by far appeared to be in the kindergarten-through-Grade-2 area, with its dizzying display of colorful balloons of various shapes and sizes being flung about.

Think about it: Is there anyone more dangerous on earth than an 8-year-old boy armed with dozens of water balloons?

It was also all about parents who wanted to go the extra mile to make sure their children had a fun, safe way to start summer vacation.

Jim Milinazzo of Pembroke was proud of having filled 85 balloons in 90 minutes to give son Jimmy, 12, and daughter Mia, 15, a fighting chance.

“No machine,” the father said. “It was all me.”

Parent Jessica Cucchi huffed and puffed all day while her children were at school and filled up 120 balloons.

“It’s just what you do for your kids,” she said.

Rich Fahey can be reached at fahey.rich2@gmail.com.

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