Shared from the 10/25/2018 The Columbus Dispatch eEdition

Amateur competitors’ creativity on display in HighBall costumes


Visitors dressed as characters from the “Batman” movies at a previous year’s HighBall Halloween [JOHN CRIDER]


Revelers dressed as the bandits from “A Christmas Story”

At a glance

What: HighBall Halloween

Where: North High Street between Goodale Street and Nationwide Boulevard

Contact: 614-299-8050,

Times: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday

Admission: $10 per night, with VIP packages available; free admission until 7 p.m. Friday and until 6 p.m. Saturday

Michael Wong has been hooked on costume contests ever since he first competed in one as a first grader.

The simple costume — he wore a white sheet and put a trick-or-treat pumpkin bowl on his head — didn't win him first place, but it didn't matter to the 6-year-old.

“It got my creative juices flowing,” said Wong, 58, a Cincinnati resident.

“And I’m pretty competitive.”

A restaurant owner by trade, Wong is a self-taught costume designer in his spare time — “You can learn anything on YouTube nowadays,” he joked — who travels to between 35 and 40 public contests a year. His annual circuit includes comic conventions and Halloween events around the region.

HighBall Halloween — which returns for its 11th year Friday and Saturday Downtown — is among his frequent stops. But while he’s serious about vying for cash prizes at other contests, Wong never has high expectations for placing first at HighBall, where he said the competition is significantly steeper.

“When I do HighBall, it’s for fun because the competition is usually so tough up there,” Wong said. “It’s probably one of the most creative contests.”

The Battelle Costume Couture Fashion Show, which features the work of 10 professional designers on Saturday, is the highlight of the two-day Halloween party, but plenty of ingenuity can be found at the public costume contests as well.

Anyone can enter the competitions, which take place both nights, just by showing up. Event coordinators select about 200 contestants per night to appear on the main stage in front of an audience of hundreds. Local celebrity judges select the winners.

Judging for entry to Friday's contest ends at 9 p.m. with the contest starting at approximately

10. Judging for entry to Saturday's contest ends at 10 p.m., with the contest starting at about 11:15.

Pop culture references and other out-of-the-box ideas abound at the contest, according to Betsy Pandora, executive director of the Short North Alliance, which produces HighBall. In years past, competitors have come dressed as Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol (with a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, of course), the character Eleven from the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” and Pennywise the Dancing Clown from Stephen King’s “It.”

“The HighBall Halloween public costume contest never fails to surpass and amaze our expectations,” Pandora said. “From humorous hijinks to impressive feats of construction, the Columbus community is all-in on the creativity they bring.”

Wong’s costume last year was a man riding a dragon with a 14-foot wingspan, mostly constructed from cardboard and paper mache. Like most of his costumes, it took about a year to construct with little help from anyone else. He won the “animal” category with it at HighBall but lost in the overall competition.

This year, categories encourage contestants to impersonate their favorite things from the 1990s: musical groups, television characters and even objects (think Beanie Babies). Other unrelated categories include superheroes, classic movie monsters and “not-so-still life,” which tasks competitors to bring to life a painting or sculpture.

Wong is keeping his costume under wraps for now, but for him, the appeal of such frivolity is simple.

“You feel like a rock star.” @EricLagatta

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