It was all about the "kidz" Saturday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
The downtown event space was transformed with brightly colored balloon arches, inflatable games and costumed characters for the Kidz Expo, presented by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The annual event, now in its fourth year, is meant to be a fun-filled day for babies, toddlers, children, tweens and their families.
Dozens of vendor booths representing area businesses, including sponsors Kelly Subaru, Trust Federal Credit Union, Dr. Keith Dressler and radio stations Hits 96 and Sunny 92.3, were interspersed among inflatable slides and obstacle courses, people making balloon animals, a magician, and a paintball shooting booth.
And then there were the characters. Captain Hook made it all the way from Neverland. Darth Vader and his stormtroopers traveled through time and space from a galaxy far, far away to be there. Princesses real and imaginary were there too, with Snow White, Belle and Elsa eliciting squeals of excitement from more than a few young girls, and Miss Tennessee, Miss Chattanooga and Miss Banana Pudding sporting their sashes and posing for pictures.
But most were there to meet the expo's special guest, Rowan Blanchard. The 13-year-old is the star of Disney's "Girl Meets World," a spin-off of the popular ABC show "Boy Meets World," which ran from 1993-2000.
The teen star spent the morning visiting with fans fighting illnesses at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, the expo's title sponsor. Rowan said she had fun playing with the kids at the hospital and enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of her fans face to face.
"It's cool to meet the people that watch the show," she said in an interview with the Times Free Press. "At the end of the day, I'm a fan too. I like shows like 'Sherlock' and 'Pretty Little Liars,' so it's nice to meet other fans."
Rowan, who just finished filming a Disney original movie due out this summer, also is excited to resume shooting the second season of "Girl Meets World" this week. She said the cast is like a family, and she understands the legacy that she's now a part of.
"I've had adults come up to me and say, 'We loved "Boy Meets World," and we're so excited for "Girl Meets World,"'" she said. "I know that it isn't just a kid's show, it's a bridge between the two."
More than a sitcom, "Boy Meets World" often tackled serious issues that young teens face, something Rowan hopes to see more of in season two.
"We don't want to shy away from things," she said. "We probably won't delve into issues like drugs and alcohol yet because my character is in middle school, but we want to be the show that tells real life."
The balance of serious and silly is something 10-year-old Reagan Yoder enjoys about "Girl Meets World," which is what compelled her to queue up with a throng of kids and parents for a chance to take a picture with the star on Saturday.
"I like the show because it usually has a message in it," Reagan said.
Rowan was met by enthusiastic cheers when she appeared onstage just after 12:30. A steady stream of fans got up onstage, met Blanchard, posed for a photo, and walked off.
Each moment was over in seconds, but 9-year-old Bailey Keef got the hug she waited months for. Aleah and Aliza Gallaher, 10, giggled and beamed when Blanchard recognized them as twins. Raven Miller, 12, whose face was painted with the Batman emblem, exclaimed, "She's so cool!" after Blanchard told her, "I like your face, Batgirl."
For all of them, it was well worth the wait.
Contact Will Healey at email@example.com or 423-757-6731.