NC Whirligig Festival wins 4 state awards

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The North Carolina Whirligig Festival won four prestigious awards recognizing its continued success at the state level.

The N.C. Association of Festivals and Events honored the festival with awards including Director of the Year, Best Children’s Program, Best Social Media and the Rising Star Award at the annual ShowFest Convention in Charlotte.

The awards mark the 10th year in a row the N.C. Whirligig Festival has been awarded state-level recognition.


Theresa Mathis, N.C. Whirligig Festival director, said she was thrilled after receiving the honors.

“We always look forward to attending ShowFest,” Mathis said. “It is such a learning experience. To be recognized with four awards was just beyond our expectations.”

Mathis received one of the top honors during the event as director of the year. And it took her by surprise. The festival executive board members submitted Mathis for the nomination.

Officials said they worked closely with another nearby festival director to submit a packet that honored the work Mathis has done in the Wilson community, across the region and at the state level.

“Theresa’s endless energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude elevates her above the others,” said Sheryletta Lacewell, festival board member, who has served on the planning committee since its inception. “Her passion and emphasis on inclusion of all people keep the festival-goers, sponsors and volunteers coming back year after year.”

Mathis has served on the N.C. Whirligig Festival planning team for 12 years. She began as a volunteer with marketing and volunteers, then moved into working with logistics and serving as director.

Mathis, who has served on the board of directors for the N.C. Association of Festivals and Events for years, including president for several of those years, is a regular presenter at regional festival and event workshops. She also works with several event-planning programs at colleges to share experiences with students who are looking to go into event-oriented careers.

“I value the commitment Theresa has to the festival and events world,” said Julie R. Beck, director of the N.C. Pickle Festival in Mount Olive. “She is always willing to share insight with other festival planners and doesn’t hesitate to give a helping hand. It was time for us to let her know what she means to the festival industry.”


The festival’s Whirli-Kidz Zone was recognized with the Best Children’s Program award. Jeremy Munn, who has served as the coordinator for the past eight years, was recognized for his collaborative approach that brings together local sponsors, the Arts Council of Wilson and the city of Wilson’s Youth Council. A key component in the judges’ selection was that the festival’s mission is to keep the festival free so that all families and all children can participate.


The Whirligig Warrior course received the Rising Star Award as a new program within an event or festival. Wilson Medical Center has worked closely with the festival for the past three years to bring the new event.

Partnering with a local company to bring TV’s American Ninja Warriors to Wilson has been a success and brought thousands of families from across the region to Wilson during the festival, officials said.

“The opportunity to meet famous Ninja Warriors was a game-changer,” Lacewell said.


Expanding its planning team to include a college intern for the first time helped the festival boost its outreach and win the Best Social Media Award. N.C. State University intern Anna Long volunteered to create a plan that would better use social media outlets. Long worked closely with the city of Wilson’s communications department and Wilson Tourism Authority to create a clear, fun and relatable messages, officials said.

The increase of social media messages combined with a revised festival website that is now mobile-friendly greatly increased engagement with festival attendees.