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Posted April 3, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Ward Burton named Sports Marshal of Apple Blossom Festival

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By Chuck McGill -- cmcgill@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- An unofficial theme of this year's Apple Blossom Festival is "Go Local! Go Bloom! Go Celebrate!"

The concept was conceived by festival president Elaine Aikens, who in light of the tough economic times sought to reach out to a variety of sports celebrities without leaving Virginia's backyard.

The approach worked, as the Apple Blossom Festival announced on Thursday that NASCAR great Ward Burton has been tapped as this year's sports marshal.

A Virginia native whom event organizers collectively labeled as personable and kind, Burton was a natural fit because of racing's popularity in the area.

"NASCAR guests are always very well received," said Kay Bolliger, co-chairman of the celebrity committee. "This year our festival is targeting some of the people who are within the area. Ward is friends with some people who live in the area and we got our contact and went from there."

Burton debuted in NASCAR in 1994 and won five races, including the 2002 running of the Daytona 500. He has 24 career top five finishes, 85 career top 10 finishes and placed in the top 10 of the season points standings twice -- in 1999 and 2000.

Burton will participate in two days of the festival -- Friday, May 1, and Saturday, May 2. He will be introduced at the Coronation of the Queen in the Handley High School auditorium at 2 p.m. on Friday, then ride in the Firefighters' Parade later that evening.

On Saturday, Burton will be the featured speaker at the festival's annual Sports Breakfast.

Other sports celebrities scheduled to appear are Curtis Fleming, a prominent fisherman and outdoors TV personality, and Devon McTavish, who plays Major League Soccer for D.C. United.

Fleming is from Cross Junction and McTavish graduated from James Wood High School in 2002.

"These three gentlemen are from Virginia ... we thought we could focus on celebrities that are actually local to us as a state," Aikens said.

Fleming, who will also speak at the Sports Breakfast, is a natural-born storyteller, Bolliger said. He's well-known for his televised fishing series "Fly Rod Chronicles with Curtis Fleming."

"He's just a caring, loving, community-oriented man," Bolliger added. "Our population is very diverse and you can't have something every year that appeals to every person, so we try to have people come in that have a broad range of appeal."

Bolliger said she couldn't recall the festival ever having a fisherman participate.

McTavish's festival schedule has not been finalized, but bringing in the former local soccer star who has played professionally since being drafted by the United in 2006 was a high priority for festival organizers.

"We're really proud of Devon," Bolliger said. "He's doing really well and he's always willing to come back to his hometown."

Aikens said there will be other sports celebrities signing to participate in the festival.

"We're trying to get sports celebrities from many different sports, but we're trying to appeal to many different areas of sports for the sports breakfast," she said. "We have a good variety of people. It'll spark the interest of people no matter what your interest might be."

Last year's sports marshal was Gale Sayers. Other past sports marshals have included Terry Labonte, Jerry West, Hank Aaron, Joe Gibbs, Dick Vitale and Frank Beamer.

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