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Allison Bruhn, 8, left, and Jesus Castellano, 8, this year's junior royalty, acknowledge the crowd from a Mustang during the annual block party. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Junior royalty center stage at Willmar, Minn., annual block party

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From the people, to the animals, to the food, it's all part of a longtime Willmar tradition. Jaycee's Block Party attracted a large crowd Thursday, kicking off with the junior coronation at 4:30 p.m. Wyatt Swenson crowned Jesus Castellano, 8, as the 2013 junior prince and Josephine Miller crowned Allison Bruhn, 8, as the 2013 junior princess. Bruhn's mom said Allison was a little overwhelmed.

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"There were a lot of girls up there," she said with a laugh.

After the junior coronation and introduction of the candidates for Willmar Fests Ambassadors, the crowd dispersed throughout the streets.

Many found their way to the petting zoo, where they fed baby kangaroos, camels and donkeys.

Genesis Gonzales, 8, said, "It was really cool and awesome." Although she missed the bull ride from last year, she said she loved the petting zoo.

The animals were Crystal Swierenga's favorite part, too. She pulled out quarters for her two children, Madelyn, 3 and Ethan, 5, who were waiting to feed the kangaroos.

Down the street, children strapped on harnesses and launched themselves into the air; parents laughed and took photos on the side. Others got their faces painted, challenged friends to water balloon fights and chowed down food.

"We make it out every year," said John Sullivan of Willmar. He said he comes for the people.

The crowd was smaller than last year, but Char Voelz, junior royalty organizer, said it was a good turnout considering all the other events going on.

At 6 p.m., everyone made their way to the side of the streets to watch the kiddie parade.

The new junior royalty sat in a convertible waving to the crowd, while the other candidates walked behind with Voelz.

"The girls are all so dressed up and they look so pretty," Voelz said. "Walking in the parade gives them something else to do."

The event concluded with the firefighter's challenge and the amazing race challenge.

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