HAMLET — The atmosphere was shocking with the electrifying anticipation of a haunting show — and a new fundraising record.
Richmond County Hospice’s biggest fundraising event, Dancing with the Stars, was once again a huge hit in the community; not to mention being a sold-out show which raised around $83,000.
The Cole Auditorium on the campus of Richmond Community College hosted the Spooktacular event Sept. 23, with doors opening at 5:30 pm. Ticketholders entered the haunted setup, some appropriately dressed in ghoulish attire.
Attendees who purchased Taste of the Sandhills tickets sampled top-notch food and drinks from more than 20 restaurants and food trucks from Richmond County and surrounding counties.
Sponsored tables were lurking with ghostly decor in a bone-chilling setup.
Attendees voted on their favorite vendor, with Godfather’s Pizza coming in first place and Los Mariachi’s at second. The winner for best table decoration went to The Gentleman’s Mobile Bar.
Set designer Nic Wilkes’ haunted version had the excellence of a Broadway show, with a haunted mansion backdrop and steps on either side.
“I’ve had a great time designing the set; I started on it a year ago,” Wilkes said. “This is my favorite time of year; it was a blast.”
The panel of judges consisted of three professionals from New Jersey — Travis Breen, Kim Menna and Eric McCotter — who have judged each of the competitions in the six years of the event.
“Every year the talent, the set, and the production value gets bigger and better,” said Breen.
“It’s for such a great cause, and this community is so friendly and full of energy. They put so much passion, time, and commitment into this event; it is incredible, and we look forward to it each year,“ said Menna.
“I love Halloween; it’s my favorite. Nic created our costumes, and we love them. We enjoy the seven-hour drive, because we don’t get to see each other very often; it’s our way of catching-up,” said McCotter.”
Following an opening dance number based around a macabre wedding, Hospice CEO Kristna Leyden and title sponsor Mabry’s Drug and Home Care Owner Jeff Smart walked out to welcome the crowd, thank the sponsors and encourage donations.
Cole Director Joey Bennett once again served as the emcee, introducing the judges and dancers.
“We are very happy to host the event again,” Bennett said. “This is probably the biggest fundraiser we’ve hosted since 2020. We are always excited about partnering with any local charities.”
The nine dance teams included: two father-daughter duos (Gene and Megan McKenzie, Matthew and Tatum Rhyne); a mother-son couple (Vickie Mathis and Dane Cipriani); a brother-sister pairing (Jeremiah Stewart and Kennedi Henry); local vocalists Charity Davis and Nikki Fletcher; and the pairings of Kim Sharpe and young Valerie McQueen, Donald “Bootsie Pettigrew and Breanna Bostick, Teddy Moseley and Andrea Kinsey, and Bobby Mabe and Kasey Knight.
Pettigrew and Mosely are the basketball coaches for the Richmond Senior High School boys and girls teams, respectively. Davis and Fletcher competed in the 2019 event.
Each team had a unique spook-based theme which kept the audience captivated.
Six-year-old McQueen was awarded a trophy as the youngest dancer to ever compete in the event. Last year, that honor went to 10-year-old Jake Smith.
McQueen danced in memory of her Granny who recently passed away; Hospice was there for her family during this time.
The theme of McQueen and Sharpe’s dance was “The Addams Family,” with McQueen as Wednesday. The judges commented on her nickname, “Sassy,” as they mentioned she played the part perfectly with her sassy facial expressions.
After the first four dance teams performed, there was an intermission, preceded by Dance Sensations taking the stage.
After intermission the Rhyne team took the stage and had the audience laughing as the father brought his version of comedy into the performance. They earned a perfect score of 30.
Mabe and Knight were the seventh team to perform; Mabe took the stage with a painted red face as he portrayed the devil in their routine set to Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
The judges commented on how Mabe may play the part longer than he anticipated, as the red coloring may set in for a while. The audience erupted in applause as Mabe and Knight danced. They also achieved a perfect score.
Next was the McKenzie team who danced to the Ghostbusters theme. At one point in the performance, Meghan was on her father’s shoulders while both continued to dance; another approval from the audience and another perfect score.
The second intermission took place while Bold Moves performed. After intermission the dance-off began with the top three dance teams: the Rhynes, McKenzies, and the Mabe-Knight duo.
After the dance-off, a zombie-like Richmond County Hospice staff entertained the crowd to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
There were three awards handed out to the winners:
- Hospice Choice (for raising the most money): Sharpe and McQueen
- People’s Choice (from the audience): Moseley and Kinsey
- Judges’ Choice: the McKenzies
Dancing with the Stars raised $80,000 in 2022 and $60,000 in 2019. The first year of the event brought in $23,000.
The Richmond County Hospice staff thanks everyone and wants each person to know how much they appreciate all the support and generosity in making the fundraiser such a success. For more information on the services Hospice offers, call 910-997-4464 or 910-997-4446.
To learn more about upcoming events at the Cole Auditorium, call 910-410-1690 or visit richmondcc.edu.
RO Managing Editor William R. Toler contributed to this story.