Though officials from the Guinness Book of World Records were not on site, photos and counts from the night will be submitted to the record-keeping agency, and the record will be declared official after the counts are verified, Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli told Patch.
The unofficial results: 2,226 people cramming together in colored ponchos to create the biggest human smiley face ever formed on the face of the earth.
The new smiley nearly tripled the old record of 768 people, set on May 6 of this year, in Croatia.
The group huddled together for a little over 10 minutes as a Black Hawk military helicopter circled the park and official photographs that will be sent to Guinness were taken from a Mahwah fire truck ladder.
“It should take Guinness about four weeks to process the record,” Batelli said.
Orchestrated by Mahwah officers with bullhorns and a microphone, residents, adorned with black and yellow ponchos donated by Prestige Motors, excitedly filed into a smiley pattern.
“We were hoping for 2,000 people, and we are so happy that we were able to exceed that. We actually ran out of ponchos!” Batelli said.
The MMA, a group of police officers and volunteers, fundraises to support the three-night sleep away camp, which Batelli said costs $50 – $60K to put on. The officers who live and work with the seventh through twelfth graders for four days on the Ramapo College campus, are not paid overtime.
“They are so dedicated to it. We actually have to turn officers down who apply to do this, because there is such enthusiasm about it in the department,” Batelli said.
The goal of the camp is to teach Mahwah’s youth to become responsible leaders in the community through fun activities, an objective definitely accomplished at Thursday night’s event.
“When I heard we were going to try to break a world record I was excited and nervous at the same time” said Jairus Paul, a rising ninth grader enrolled in the YLA.
“Now, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something amazing.”
The accomplishment was not limited to the 175 campers and their police officer counselors – thousands of residents joined them to help accomplish what became a community-wide goal.
MMA volunteer Bill Laforet, who announced his intent to run for mayor last month, said, “We are so glad the MMA is gaining such momentum, and growing bigger than we ever thought it would; this event was obviously about the entire community.”
“It’s a great event, and I am proud to be a part of it,” said resident Doreen Strauch, whose son is a YLA camper.
Brianna Grath added, “I just think it’s good that so many people want to get involved in the community. That doesn’t happen too much anymore.”
Mayor John DaPuzzo said the event epitomized what he loves about the township.
“This was yet another great event organized by a dedicated group of volunteers,” DaPuzzo said.
Community members young, old and everywhere in between, came to become a part of history.
“We couldn’t have been happier with the turnout. The kids and families were really amazing,” Mahwah Sgt. Robert Curtis said.
“It’s people from all across Mahwah, from infants to senior citizens. Breaking a record brought the entire community together,” said resident Peter Raia.
A family fair leading up to the record-breaking attempt – complete with bounce houses, dunk tanks, games, food and more – attracted participants from beyond Mahwah’s borders, including former NFL players who signed autographs and took pictures with fans.
Former NY Giants Sean Landeta, Stephen Baker “The Touchdown Maker,” and Billy Taylor, an NFL draft pick, said they were happy to add another dimension to the evening.
“We are very honored to have been asked to come,” Baker said. All three donned ponchos and joined in on the record-breaking, as nearly everyone in attendance who was not keeping official record of the attempt was on the field to be a part of it.
“Everyone has a bucket list, and breaking a world record, being in the Guinness Book, is on a lot of people’s lists,” DaPuzzo said.
“Tonight in Mahwah, 2200 people got to scratch an item off of their bucket lists.”
For Batelli, the Mahwah squad, and the volunteers of the MMA, the message the kids and the community will take away from this experience is the most important aspect of shattering the previous record.
The theme of this year’s camp is, “Changing the world, one smile at a time.”
“Every activity we put together at the Academy has a lesson buried somewhere in it, even if the kids are having too much fun to realize that right away,” Batelli said.
“Tonight, I think they learned that if they put their minds to a goal, they will be able to work together to achieve it. It’s a lesson that is worth a big smile.”