Joseph Monticiolo, 8, contemplates his next move while competing in...

Joseph Monticiolo, 8, contemplates his next move while competing in the strawberry shortcake 'neat-eating' contest at the Harbor Country Day School's inaugural strawberry festival. (June 4, 2011) Credit: T.C. McCarthy

For Derek Knipper, competition was much more important than confection.

He was crowned the winner of the “neat-eating” strawberry shortcake competition, part of Harbor Country Day School’s inaugural Strawberry Festival in St. James. Children were challenged to eat as much as they could in five minutes, without using their hands or making a mess.

“The funny thing is I don’t like sugar,” said 10-year-old Derek. “I just said, ‘My sister is not going to beat me.’”

Hundreds of people descended on the school for the festival, which benefited the year-old Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Local vendors, inflatable rides, ponies and, of course, strawberry-based delights were on hand for all to enjoy.

“Today is all about community, it’s all about fun,” said Chris Pryor, Harbor Country Day's head of school. “We wanted to get the word out about the new hospital in town, but also provide an opportunity for kids of all ages to get together.”

Charity and goodies aside, it was also a chance for the community to tour the century-old mansion that now houses the school.

The home once belonged to philanthropist Alice McLean. She was responsible for organizing the American Women's Voluntary Services organization, which provided support services while American men fought in World War II. The school’s kindergarten classroom was once her library -- one of her bathrooms is now a conference room. Her legacy is so strong that stories of her spirit still wandering the building aren’t uncommon.

“The school has been here since 1958,” Pryor said. “The property has been populated since 1910 when the McLeans lived here. Behind me is the oldest cedar tree on Long Island. This is a wonderful historic school and property.”

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