HOPE — Grubby has spoken — spring will come early to south central Indiana this year.

About 80 spectators cheered in the Hope Town Square Thursday morning when a sleepy groundhog named Grubby was coaxed out of her box.

For the 25 preschoolers from the Community Center of Hope in attendance, David Miller — one of four men wearing top hats and tails known as Grubby’s Groupies — gave a poetic explanation of Groundhog Day.

“Grubby — awake from your slumber and tell us the news. If your shadow you see, six more weeks of the blues. If no shadow in sight, then we shall rejoice. Spring will be soon. Oh, tell us your choice.”

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Instead of holding up the animal, Grubby’s Groupies relied on UTOPIA Wildlife Rehabilitators owner Kathy Hershey as an interpreter as she lovingly cradled the groundhog in her arms.

To the delight of the young children, Grubby moved her mouth a bit, giving the illusion she was speaking in her handler’s ear before Hershey shook her head to groupie David Webster.

Before Webster could fully deliver the official prognostication, cheers erupted from a crowd who knew from the overcast skies what was coming next.

“No shadow she sees. The groundhog has spoken. The winter’s long spell will shortly be broken,” Webster proclaimed.

While Grubby gave Bartholomew County residents what they wanted to hear, a few customers at the 25th Street Marathon near Talley Road said they had a little more confidence in Punxsutawney Phil, whose earlier prediction from Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania called for six more weeks of winter.

But with only a 39 percent accuracy rating, Phil has seldom been an optimistic groundhog. Records dating to 1887 show Phil has now predicted more winter 103 times while forecasting an early spring just 18 times — including last year.

Bragging rights for the highest accuracy rating (80 percent) among prognosticating groundhogs goes to Staten Island Chuck. On Thursday, Chuck and Grubby were in consensus that spring is just around the corner.

Few Hoosier meteorologists appear to be arguing with Grubby’s prediction.

The area’s long-term forecast calls for temperatures rising into the upper 40s late this weekend, with the thermometer shooting up into the 60s on Tuesday.

Thursday’s ceremony was less about weather forecasting — and more about Hope making a niche for themselves by breaking up the winter doldrums, according to Hope native and Bartholomew County Councilman Bill Lentz.

“It’s more than just seeing a groundhog,” Lentz said. “It’s the fellowship you feel with good friends.  I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

There is also a widespread conviction in this town of 2,100 residents that the Hope Town Square is the perfect location to display the traditional spirit of Groundhog Day, said town librarian David Miller.

“With the proclamations and the top hats – the old Americana feel – this event is such a good match for Hope, which reflects so much on it’s own history,” Miller said.

Heritage of Hope CEO Michael Dean said he was surprised and delighted that attendance was up 60 percent for Thursday’s ceremony, compared to the first one in 2015. Dean said he expects subsequent ceremonies will keep getting bigger and better.

“As long as the community supports it, it will keep growing — like everything else we do in Hope,” Dean said.

At only 5 years old, Carson Wilmer didn’t know too much about Groundhog Day history, traditions, meteorology or event organizing.

But he was definitely among the majority of the preschool children who found the top-hatted Grubby irresistible.

“I was a bit scared, and I didn’t want to pet her,” Carson said while enjoying a muffin during the post-ceremony reception at Willow Leaves. “But I really liked the groundhog.”

About Grubby

Age: 3

Address: UTOPIA Wildlife Rehabilitators, County Road 200N, Hope

Species: Marmota Monax

Also known as: groundhogs, gophers, ground squirrels, land beavers, marmots, monks, pasture pigs, prairie dogs, varmints, woodchucks and whistling pigs.

History: (as delivered by handler Kathy Hershey during Thursday’s ceremony): “Grubby came to us as a tiny baby. She was ripped up by a dog and found on someone’s front lawn. It took quite a bit of rehabilitation, but in the process, she became very easy to handle. When we let her go, she came back.”

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.