ELYRIA — Twelve-year-old Michael Derrick knows Batman — he’s his middle school science teacher.
Michael and his family made the half-hour drive from Rocky River to Ely Square on Saturday to see a concert as his teacher and other volunteers dressed up as comic book characters in the unique pairing of superheroes and classical music that filled downtown Elyria on Saturday evening.
They were not alone. About 3,000 people came to the square 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday to listen to the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, eat from food trucks and take photographs with the people of Super Heroes to Kids in Ohio. The organization consists of volunteers who dress as superheroes to cheer up patients in hospitals and to make appearances at events across the state.
Though it’s not the first time the heroes have made a stop in Elyria — they also filled Ely Square in May — it is the first time they’ve partnered with the annual Cleveland Pops show downtown.
The orchestra played mostly classical music, broken up with on-stage presentations and inspiring messages from many of the superheroes and even some super villains.
Daniel Stewart, dressed as Superman, told the crowd “I believe in each and every one of you,” followed by uplifting music from the orchestra. A few minutes later, Disney’s Elsa and Anna walked on stage to a blend of songs from the movie “Frozen.”
Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda, who hopes the organization will return for events in subsequent summers, said the combination of hosting both the concert and the superheroes fulfilled two goals: It brought classical music to children and children to Elyria.
“This is another way to expose all kids to the love of music,” Brinda said, adding that prior to the concert, many of the children were allowed to go on stage and hold the instruments in a sort of “orchestra petting zoo.”
Additionally, Brinda said, it brought families with young children to downtown Elyria for the evening. Many of the families who came Saturday hadn’t attended the Cleveland Pops concert before, despite it being in Elyria for the past 10 years. Maybe it was the promise of a superhero accompaniment that drew more families, but for many the concert may become a regular visit.
Rachel Barley, an Elyria resident who came with her family, loved the superhero event and said she would definitely be staying for what would be her first Cleveland Pops concert.
“It’s cool for the kids to bring their families down to Elyria,” Barley said.
For another couple visiting Lorain County from Uganda, the evening was a chance to get a good feel for the sense of community in a small city.
“We are looking all over … this brings people together,” Imelda Wabulembo said of her short visit in Elyria to see the concert. Her husband, Dr. Geoffrey Wabulembo, was similarly pleased by the crowd and the concert.
“We feel delighted to have this opportunity,” he said.
For the superheroes themselves, it’s all about making the local children happy. That’s what made Stewart join the organization.
“To see the smiles on kids’ faces … it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.