2023 Grand Leprechaun contest: 'Only one gets the big green hat'

Mar. 18—For competitors in the 2023 Grand Leprechaun contest, which since 2004 has raised more than $336,000 for Meadville-area nonprofits, the unwritten theme seems to have been "Erin go big" or "Erin go home."

The five competitors who campaigned for votes to support their causes — each vote cost supporters $1 — the choice was an easy one: They all went big. Jimmy Severo, the Ranz Bar and Grill owner who campaigned for the Northwestern PA NTMA Education Foundation, went quite big.

But Alisha Sheatz, a thoracic clinical navigator at Yolanda G. Barco Oncology Institute, went "Erin go biggest" of all in campaigning for the Meadville Medical Center Foundation's benevolent fund for Barco patients.

It was a year of firsts and mosts, contest organizer Eileen Mullen told a crowded barroom filled with the sounds of bagpipes and drums — the first time all competitors had raised more than $1,300, the first time the field as a whole had raised over $50,000, the most money ever raised by a field of candidates.

Severo and Sheatz both became the first candidates in contest history to raise more than $20,000. Severo, who had lingered in last place when standings were announced after both the first and second week, managed to drum up enough support to leap all the way to from just 76 votes to 24,627 by the time votes were counted Friday.

It still wasn't enough.

With a reference to honorary head topper worn by the Grand Leprechaun in the Jack Curtin St. Patrick's Day Parade that marches down Chestnut Street today, Mullen told the crowd that Sheatz had topped the field of candidates.

"Everyone here is a winner," Mullen said, "but only one gets the big green hat."

The hat, which lived up to its name, seemed to fit Sheatz just fine.

Like Severo, Sheatz had a strong final week as well, accumulating 22,805 votes in the final week for a total of 26,004.

Sheatz said the victory was an emotional one that was made possible by her family, friends and colleagues stepping "up in ways I couldn't have imagined."

"This community is absolutely remarkable," she said, "and we're here to support our community and our patients who are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives."

Severo, smiling behind a bushy black beard that played a key role in his campaign, was one of several candidates showing signs of fatigue after the three-week sprint of fundraisers, guest bartending and campaign events.

"It's a lot of putting yourself out there," he said. "We had a good competition, seems like everybody had fun, everybody raised money, so everybody wins in the end."

Sheatz and Severo accounted for 85 percent of the contest's votes, but the remaining three candidates still raised significant funds for their causes.

Kim Adsit brought in 5,464 votes for St. James Haven, which provides emergency shelter for men at 779 N. Main St. Jackie Roberson received 2,190 votes for Family and Community Christian Association, where he serves as executive director. Greg Panchura got 1,388 votes stumping for Meadville Council on the Arts.

With organizers retaining 5 percent of money raised to support the event, the total going to the five nonprofits was $56,689.11.

Mullen also announced the 2023 Irish Rose honoree, Armendia Dixon, and the Irish Spirit award winner, Meadville Tribune reporter Mike Crowley.

Addressing the room full of candidates and campaign supporters, Mullen stressed that today's parade marches down Chestnut Street regardless of conditions. Held consistently since 1988 with the exception of two pandemic-related cancellations, the parade has been held in rain and snow, amid frigid temperatures and even one year when it was 70 degrees.

"The parade goes on no matter what," she said.

After the biggest Grand Leprechaun contest yet as a prelude, it would only make sense to follow it up in "Erin go big" fashion.

"If you guys all come tomorrow and walk in the parade," Mullen told the crowd, some in tweed hats, others in kilts and all in green, "we could have the biggest parade we've ever had."

Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.