While the Mall of Georgia’s 16th annual Star Spangled Fourth was just getting underway Wednesday, Buford sisters Ivanna, Anabella, Emily and Antonella Zambrano took advantage of the lighter crowds early to get in some cornhole.

Ivanna and Emily teamed up to be green team while Anabella and Antonella made up the blue team — the teams were designated by the color of their bean bags — and they took turns tossing the bags, trying to get them to go into small holes on a pair of boards.

Several times the bags either slid over the top or off the side of the board, or they landed just short of the board, but on occasion each team hit their targets. Still, Ivanna conceded her younger sisters were having more success.

“I know, the teenagers are beating the old person,” she said.

The annual Independence Day celebration at the mall, which includes what mall and county officials say is the largest fireworks show in the county, gave visitors from near and far a chance to celebrate the holiday with a variety of activities.

Thousands of people gradually arrived at the mall throughout the afternoon and into the early evening with thousands expected at the celebration.

Over a nine-hour period, attendees could visit food trucks or eat in the Mall of Georgia’s Village area, ride a mechanical bull, climb a plumbing-themed “rock” wall, get their photos taken in crazy get ups, enjoys live music, watch fireworks and catch a showing of the film “Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle” afterward.

“As with all of our events, we’re honored to be such a valued member of the community and we’re equally honored that our guests chose to come spend the day with us,” Mall of Georgia Director of Marketing Teresa Holloway said. “We want to provide them with lots of fun, delicious food choices and good entertainment.”

Staging a large show like the one done at the Mall of Georgia takes a large set-up. East Coast Pyrotechnics’ Matt Vengilio said the 12-minute show included about 3,000 individual firework shots. The fireworks are controlled by computer programs and a digital signal that is encoded into the music to control when the fireworks should be set off.

“It’s a well timed out show with choreography that goes to the music,” Vengilio said. “So there are all the usual songs that they typically play (and) you get all of your big bursts and all of the big hits.”

The event also tied into Gwinnett County’s bicentennial celebrations, with Gwinnett 200 serving as an event sponsor.

Attendees could meet living history interpreters from the county’s cultural and natural resources department. One of the living history experts came to the event dressed as county namesake Button Gwinnett, who was one of Georgia’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Booths that offered information about county parks, elections, health and human services and animal welfare and enforcement were also set up at the event.

“The largest countywide event is here at the Mall of Georgia and we wanted to partner with them, just to try and get the word out about Gwinnett County’s bicentennial year,” Deputy County Manager Phil Hoskins said.

Holloway said mall officials saw the fireworks show as a logical tie-in with the year-long bicentennial celebrations.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of the Gwinnett community and we thought it was just a natural tie-in and we’re honored to get to partner with them,” she said.

But, the event overall was intended to give families a fun day out and a chance to gather as a community to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Douglasville youth Tiara Garrett decided to try the mechanical bull after she saw other people try it out. Her family was in the Buford area for some business and decided to stop by the mall’s celebration for a few hours before heading to a fireworks show that was closer to their home.

“We’re having a good time,” said Elaine Garrett, who is Tiara’s mother. “The food is good. The entertainment (is good too). This is really nice.”

At first, the mechanical bull jerked back and forth, stopping and starting and slowly turning around in incomplete circles. Then it suddenly took off and Garrett was quickly bucked from the robotic bovine.

“It was fun, I wasn’t scared,” she said.

Her father, Rob Garrett, was curious about her getting thrown from it though.

“Why didn’t you stay on it longer? Was it slippery?”, he asked.

“No, because it surprised me,” the daughter said.

Elsewhere, the Raggett family tried on oversized hats, sunglasses and Statue of Liberty crowns and torches on sticks as they tried to figure out what to wear for a family photo at a booth set up by mall officials. Victoria and John Raggett and their children, Hailey, 10, Abigail, 7, and Jack, 2, huddled together and made various faces for the camera.

“I love (family) photos,” Victoria Raggett said. “They’re only young once.”

Hailey Raggett was impressed by a prize wheel that the mall had set up at one of its booths though. She won a pair of patriotic antennae, with stars on top, when she spun the wheel.

“It’s just fun and exciting to see what you’re going to win while the wheel is spinning,” she said.

It was the first time that the Raggett family had attended the event because they recently moved to the Buford area from Texas. Her parents gave it their approval and said they would consider making it their annual Fourth of July destination.

“I wish it would start a little later because it’s really hot, but other than that, I really like it,” Victoria Raggett said.

For the Zambrano sisters, however, going to the mall to celebrate Independence Day is becoming old hat. Ivanna Zambrano said they’ve gone to the event for a few years now.

It’s the atmosphere surrounding the celebration that has them coming back every year.

“It’s just really nice to be a part of a community that gathers together and celebrate as families,” she said.

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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