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Will there be meatballs? You bet. 7 reasons to go to Fort Mill's Italian festival

Benvenuti! It's the 15th annual Italian Festival in Fort Mill

St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill hosted the annual Italian Festival in 2015. The event featured signature homemade Italian dishes, the Italian Idol talent contest, games, rides, vendors and more.
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St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill hosted the annual Italian Festival in 2015. The event featured signature homemade Italian dishes, the Italian Idol talent contest, games, rides, vendors and more.

Haven't been to the annual three-day Italian Festival in Fort Mill?

There are plenty of reasons to give the 23rd annual gathering of all things Italian a shot this year. Here are six need to knows about the May 17-19 festival at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church at 292 Munn Road East, Fort Mill. For more details, visit spnitalianfestival.com.

It's big

Each year, the Fort Mill event hosts more than 10,000 people. That number is two-thirds the population of Fort Mill with festival-goers coming from plenty of neighboring areas. The festival began in 1995, so it's one of the longer running and largest annual gatherings in Fort Mill. The event stretches over three days. It also is York County's only Italian celebration.

The food

It wouldn't be Italian without food, lots of food. The church event is known for its homemade Italian sausage, turning raw pork into sausage links with locals' own "secret" recipes. Other homemade foods include meatballs, lasagna, eggplant parmesan, antipasto and cannoli on the menu. Friday lunch, dine in or take out, starts at 11:30 a.m. and follows through Saturday.

At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, food turns into sport, with Italian Ice, ice cream and hot pepper pizza eating contests. So come hungry.

The drinks

There is a wine tasting on the gated patio starting at 7 p.m. Thursday. At 3:30 p.m. Saturday, there's a craft beer tasting at the same spot.

Italian Idol

We're not talking karaoke here. Italian Idol, in its 11th year, features contestants who auditioned and made the cut to perform at the festival. Italian Idol brings together singers, dancers, bands, instrumentalists, and even gymnasts. They'll be judged by professional radio personalities and entertainment business executives, including a Grammy voting member. The competition starts at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

The top three adults and juniors (age 7-12) receive cash prizes totaling $675.

Cannoli Run

Finally, someone answers the age-old question of whether to get in exercise or eat dessert. Why not both?

The Cannoli Run starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday. It's a 5K with three cannolis to eat along the way. There also is a mile-long family walk and a 100-yard dash for kids. All participants get a T-shirt and medal. Age group awards are given, and the fastest male and female who finish the 5K and their cannolis will be named King and Queen Cannoli. So there's actual royalty on the line.

There also are team competitions and prize drawings after the race.

Something for the kids

Got adorable kids? Do they have costumes to up the adorableness even more? Good. There's an event just for them with the annual Benvenuti Parade. It starts at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Best costumes earn Prince and Princess Benvenuti titles. Kids up to age 12 can march, with participants scoring a festival fun zone wristband for Friday night.

About that fun zone, a variety of games, inflatables, crafts and activities will be set up for the little ones. An Instagram scavenger hunt starts at 7 p.m. Friday. Bottle flipping and hula hoop contests starts Saturday at 2:30 and 3 p.m., respectively. Tickets for fun zone events are $1, with activities ranging from free to two tickets. Most are a half ticket.

Win big, give big

A main raffle offers a shot at $2,500. Three more winners will take home a combined $1,000. Tickets for the raffle are $5. A separate, $10 raffle ticket will get someone a Biltmore vacation valued at $2,000. Proceeds from both those raffles go to a fund for future growth and expansion at St. Philip Neri.

Silent auction items include a golf package, zip line trip, food, services and more. Bidding closes at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. A live action begins at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, right after the main raffle drawing. Live auction items include trips, an air conditioning unit with installation, Carolina Panthers season tickets, a BMW driving experience and plenty more.

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