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©2012 The Media Desk

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"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
the Athlete Oath for the Special Olympics

      Sometimes the best ideas are the essentially unplanned ones.

      Such as with the event covered below. The Desk had walked into the building with no intention of 'working' the event. It was not a 'registered media', it did not have any of its usual "stuff" with it, had done no background work or research. Nothing. The original idea was to stop by, see the cakes, and then go do other things. Instead, the day turned into ... this.

      And, The Desk, for one, is glad it did.

      Links to all relevant organizations and individuals below.
      Photo Page here.

"I didn't know you could do that with cake."

-quoted from event observer
      The Special Olympics was founded through the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Anne Marie McGlone Burk, in memory of Rose Marie Kennedy who had a mental impairment, which, in the 1940's was treated with new progressive medical procedures which are now (correctly) regarded as barbaric, and which resulted in permanent severe disability for the rest of her life.
      In 2011 during the "Polar Bear Plunge" weekend, the Special Olympic organization in Delaware had a "cake off" with the eventual winner of a "manipulated-situation scripted-reality comedy-show", or at least that's how one of the other contestants, Jay Qualls of Nashville, put it. There is no need to go into the name of the show or its network here. Winning the 'TV reality-show competition' made Dana Herbert of Bear, Delaware, enough of a celebrity for him to headline the event again this year.
      And that's the background. Links to the various Special Olympics entities are below.

      Five of the contestants from season one of the TV show, several of whom were at the first 'cake off' event, and two from season two, came in for the 2012 renewal of the contest.
      One of the things that was immediately apparent was that any real sense of competition between the two teams was more wishful thinking than reality. Which was also the sense you got as you listened to them talk about the 'reality' show they had all been on. The drama, if that is even the correct word for it, was as manufactured as the large blocks of 'rice cereal treats' used to construct the various features sculpted for the presentation cakes made for the event. These people were all friends, and it showed.
      Jay and Dana had spent part of the week or so before the event teaching a cake decorating class together. And now they were 'competing' in a charity event as the leaders of opposing teams.
      Between the eight bakers, their experience ranged from having started when they were teenagers, well, one of them was a teenager last year, but we'll skip that detail, to having done it for, well, the youngest one had more experience than the oldest one, so we'll skip that too.
      Yes indeed. Jasmine Frank, at age 20, has more experience in cake decorating than Carmelo Oquendo who spent that long as a police officer before he retired just over a year ago to bake cakes.
      The bottom line is that there is no great overriding similarity between them other than they really enjoy decorating high end cakes, and that they are good enough at it to get on the TV show to do it, beating out in the neighborhood of 10,000 applicants for each of the two seasons for the chance to do it.
      And yes, they are really good at it, and it showed. Links to their various websites, which contain photos that Jay described as "cake porn", are also below.

      Part of what the audience learned about the show was that it isn't the most talented, or best overall competitor, or even the one that makes the best TV that wins these kinds of shows. Just sitting in the audience you would see that Jay has the most engaging personality for a live event, but that may not come across on TV. Greggy Soriano is a master sculptor, doing finely detailed work that requires an artist's touch with an expert hand, but watching him do it in real time on TV would be as dull as golf. Carmelo's work was somewhat larger, well, a lot larger. Actually if he were sculpting a polar bear cub, it was probably life size. And again, the attention to detail is marvelous, but it took him over four hours to take the bear from a stack of cereal treats to the final, amazing, model. On TV, that would have been edited down to about two minutes.
      Take the small figures Pamela Ahn worked on. They looked like porcelain figurines instead of something you could eat. And they did not look at all like something hand made by a Washington, DC electrical engineer. But that's what the young lady is in her 'other life'.
      The same can be said for the buildings and landscaping created by Kendra Jordan, a former special education teacher, and Johanna Lyons, who is, of all things, a baker! They were working from photographs of the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk to recreate, with some good detail as well, several iconic ocean front fixtures.

      But of course the focus is on the team leaders.
      There is simply no other way to put it than to say Jay Qualls was the star of the show. He interacted with the audience and the other bakers, sometimes while on his hands and knees on the production table roughing the cake in and then spray painting it to look like water. And he was not shy at all about talking about the more disagreeable aspects of making TV. Not that he was bitter about having participated in the show, he admits that he learned a lot, and met some great people, but instead it was all of the behind the scenes crap involved in making the show wasn't what he had expected. Had he known what he was getting into, he may have hesitated before taking a month out of his life to do the show. After all, he had his own four year old bakery to run.
      For instance, he explained that the forty second 'food fight' shown at the beginning of the episodes throughout the first season had taken an entire day to film. For less than a minute of screen time, they'd spent over 18 hours on the set, working way into the night, repeatedly throwing pies and cakes at each other, then changing clothes, resetting, and then bringing out fresh pastries to be sacrificed to the terrible pagan god of television.
      He also revealed some details about the traps that were built into various episodes which would lead to the failure of one or another contestant during a challenge, which might result in them being ejected from the cast.
      And no, it isn't fair. But, whoever said one of these 'reality shows' was fair? That is the Desk's conclusion, but it has a reasonable suspicion that Mr. Qualls would agree.

      On the other team, Dana Herbert, the "Sugar Daddy", spent a good part of the day proving that he came by that nickname honestly by casting and pulling several large waves that looked like glass or plastic, except they were sugar that had been melted and then turned into splashing water frozen in time. But today's castings were only a sample of the intricate artwork he is capable of, including the rather fussy procedure known as 'blown sugar' which is a candy version of the glass blowing you see involving stemware and art glass but Dana uses sucrose instead of sand as raw material.
      Which is one of the things that most of the bakers said they took away from the show. They had learned, both from the host of the show, as when Carmelo said that he had never used a thirty inch fondant sheeter before and the host had told him how it worked. After the show, he went out and bought one, turning what had been hours of exhausting work into a process that needed only a few minutes.
      And even then, with the second cousin to an industrial pizza crust roller, making one of these sorts of cakes may take a week or more. For instance, if you wanted flowers on your cake made of gum paste, an edible concoction of powdered sugar, gelatin, liquid glucose, and something called 'gum tragacanth', that dries harder than fondant (which is essentially marshmallow that isn't fluffy any more). The paste items, which can look impossibly realistic, take at least twenty four hours to dry before they should be put on the cake. And that explains both why it is such a time consuming process, and why even a fairly simple cake can cost as much as a used car. Remember those figures Greggy and Pamela were making (see the photo page), yeah those, on a cake from their bakery, each one could cost a hundred and fifty dollars or more. And never mind the price tag on a cake made for a celebrity client made by a celebrity chef. Such as the one Dana's co-teacher made for a TV fashion diva (link to Jay's website below where you can read all about it).
      The tools these masters of their craft use are as varied as the artisans themselves. Objects seen in use that day, besides things that you would expect like icing knives and rolling pins, included a cheese slicer, a hair drier, dental picks, razor knives, and other items more often associated with the building trades. Such as a power drill, galvanized pipe, dowel rods, and plywood. Oh, and to make his cast sugar waves cooperate, Dana used a propane torch.

      But of course, all of the sugar work, and cereal treat carving, and spray painting (with food grade dyes of course) and all the rest was subsidiary to the cause.
      The entire event was to help support the Special Olympics, and both the MCs from local radio stations, and the bakers, especially Jay, and even the judges, reminded people that donations to the cause, as both votes for the audience favorite and the souvenirs for sale in the back, as well as donations to get the bakers to "plunge" were being accepted all day.
      And by the end of the day, the convention center was as crowded as it could be without being called "Standing Room Only".
      There was a kids area where youngsters could try their hand at decorating cupcakes of various sorts, including some that were so 'allergen free' you had to wonder what they were made of. Then there was a concession stand with coffee and other goodies. But sadly, no hotdogs. Something that the crowd might have appreciated after standing around watching people play with their food for several hours.

      The Special Olympics had already registered over thirty five hundred 'bears' for the mid-winter jump into the ocean the next day, and with at least fifty dollars a head being raised for the chance to experience forty degree water first hand, the event was assured of breaking all sorts of fund raising records for the cause. And it should be noted here and now that some of the bears had been raising money for their plunge for months and many would turn over a lot more than the minimum of fifty bucks.
      When the final tally was in from Sunday's headliner, nearly four thousand plungers raised over $650,000 for the charity's year long calendar of events for the special athletes who train, participate and compete.

      But what, you may well ask, does Special Olympics do with all the money? They organize outings that range from the traditional, such as track and field, to ones you might not think of like Alpine skiing and equestrian events. Something one of the judges for the event was very familiar with as she had participated in horsemanship as an athlete for several years and had done quite well.
      One of the more surprising events available to athletes older than 16 is the powerlifting training with members of the law enforcement community. The same group that brings you the annual torch run before the local summer games in June.
      Besides the summer games, the Special Olympics runs year round training and events in indoor sports, and outdoors ones that aren't weather specific, such as Alpine Skiing seems to be a winter only sport and cycling events are probably best done in warmer months.
      All sporting events are done, in the vast majority of cases, at no cost to the athletes who participate. Uniforms and equipment are provided at no charge, and there is no cost to participate at any level.
      The money raised through events like the plunge and the cake-off, the runs, and even the Plane Pull... ...
      "Wait a minute. Plane Pull?", somebody just said.
      Oh, yes indeed. In May teams of twenty will attempt to drag a one hundred thousand pound Air National Guard C-130 twelve feet along a taxiway in the best elapsed time. Yes you will be pulling a very large aircraft with naught but your hands and feet... and nineteen of your best, and craziest, friends all tugging on some big ropes. Doing so against a clock. And trying to do so faster than over fifty other teams. Sound like fun? You can sign up at the link below.
      The money raised - oh, by the way, the teams pulling the airplane have each raised or otherwise contributed $750 or more for the chance to see their chiropractors the week after the event - is used to do everything from rent venues, to purchase gear and uniforms for athletes, and to even provide trained medical personnel and equipment for sporting events. Of course, as the world's largest and most recognized charity for those with intellectual disabilities it gets a lot of things donated, but there are still expenses, such as supplying educational materials to schools to promote inclusion and acceptance of individuals with such challenges.

      One of the things the Desk does is to check out charities as far as what percentage of donated funds actually goes to the work the charity says it is doing. According to the Charity Navigator, link below, Special Olympics is one of the highest rated national groups in operation. Over eighty cents of every dollar raised goes toward helping the athletes in the program. Which says something about their current chairman and CEO, Timothy Shriver. Yes, the son of the founder continues the work.
      It IS about helping those that need it.

      Back to the cakes, Team Dana won the official competition. But as far as the actual winners of the event, well... you'll figure it out.

To the Photo Page

Selected Outside Links will open in new window:

Special Olympics Delaware

The "cake off" page:

The Polar Bear Plunge the "independent charity evaluator"

Team Jay:
Jay Qualls -
- and his Cake Porn, which is what he wants to call a TV show.

Kendra Jordan -

Greggy Soriano -

Johanna Lyons -
Note: there are a bunch of 'sugar plums' out there, this one is hers!

Team Dana:
Dana Herbert - The "Sugar Daddy" of Delaware.

Pamela Ahn -

Jasmine Frank -

Carmelo Oquendo "I'll make you a cake you can't refuse" -

Other Desk Photo Essays

[NOTE: This event coverage is presented as an effort to convey the overall flavor of the event and relate it to the larger charity and their good work. Please accept it as such. No endorsement of the Desk by anybody or anything involved, or vice versa, is to be assumed.
    All photos were taken by Mrs. Desk, who owns and controls the copyright of said images. All names and identifying marks, businesses, and everybody and everything else are owned by their respective owners and are used here as part of this journalistic effort. If any said entity objects to their inclusion, said words and image will be removed. They may contact the Desk at: Dr_Leftover{!a~t!}TheMediaDesk{!d0t!}com (email scrambled due to spammer robots).
   The online presentation of this article and related photos is owned by, please see the following for further information:
    -thank you ]
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