MILFORD \u2014 A silver lining of last year\u2019s virtual sand sculpture contest was that anyone in the state \u2014 or beyond \u2014 could participate in the city\u2019s annual tradition. The event was such a success that the 44th annual competition \u2014 to be held July 18 \u2014 will be a hybrid model of in-person sculpting at Walnut Beach and virtual entries. \u201cThe virtual version went so well that we decided we should offer both versions of the contest this year,\u201d said Lori Lewis, previous marketing director for the Milford Arts Council. \u201cAnyone from anywhere can enter and so we\u2019re shouting out to creative spirits from Cape Cod to California to Clearwater and even Croatia. Our vision is to see \u2018creativity everywhere,\u2019 so we want everyone to have a chance to build a sculpture on the home beach of choice.\u201d Richard Stephen, sand sculpture contest organizer, said most people who participate are from the Milford area, but some people have come from upstate, New York and Massachusetts. Stephen said he thinks most of the sculptures will be done at the beach even though the event has a hybrid model. \u201cThis is the first year we are doing this so it\u2019s hard to predict what will happen,\u201d he said. \u201cI think there will be a few sent in virtually, but the fun of the whole thing really is going down there walking around and looking at all the sculptures.\u201d Before Stephen became a board member of the MAC and started running the event, he participated in the contest and even won some awards. Then he would bring his daughter to the contest, and she started participating in it as well. \u201cThe event is becoming more and more for families,\u201d said Stephen. \u201cIt used to be there was a lot more organizations that used to participate and groups of friends, and that still happens, but not as often.\u201d The sand sculpture contest is hosted by the Milford Arts Council and sponsored by Milford Bank and is the longest-standing tradition for the MAC. Last year, due to COVID, the MAC held the 43rd annual contest entirely virtually. Stephen said people who participated in the contest last year submitted photographs to the MAC to judge. \u201cA lot of people went to the beach and did it on their own,\u201d he said. \u201cI actually sculpted a rattlesnake on a board in my backyard with sand. So it was interesting, plus people who aren\u2019t just from Milford could enter more easily because they didn\u2019t have to drive down here.\u201d There are different award categories, including for individuals or groups of children up to age 9, which Stephen says is his favorite group to see. \u201cThey think more outside the box. They\u2019re not thinking so much standard fare like a shark or just an octopus,\u201d he said. \u201cThey generally tell more stories... One year there was a kid he was 6 or 7 years old and he did this sculpture that looked like an abstract painting. He started telling me the whole story about what it was. I could tell that he was an up-and-coming artist. He had the artist lingo down and ready.\u201d Other categories in the contest are individuals from 10-to-15 years old, individuals age 16-and-over, friends and groups and lastly families. \u201cWhen the judges go out, I tell them the most important thing is creativity,\u201d he said. \u201cYou want them to be sort of technically well done, as best as possible, but if it\u2019s funny or if it says something even in terms of address an issue, whatever it is in terms of creativity and being original, that for me, is the most important thing.\u201d This year, Miss Connecticut 2021 Alexis Volpe will be a special guest judge at the contest, and Stephen said he\u2019s going to be a judge as well. \u201cAs many people who want to and can find space can participate because it\u2019s all dependent on the tide. The sand bars that develop sometimes are oddly shaped or are not that large so, it can get somewhat cramped sometimes,\u201d said Stephen. \u201cBut for the most part, there\u2019s always room for somebody, and it\u2019s oddly consistent in terms of how many people end up sculpting something.\u201d But since last year the MAC didn\u2019t hold the contest in person, Stephen said there might be more people this year sculpting at the beach. The MAC is also giving out a $100 online People\u2019s Choice award. To be eligible, participants need to follow the MAC on Facebook and Instagram, send a picture to email@example.com by 2 p.m. on July 18 and make a suggested $10 donation to the organization. In-person awards will be announced at 3 p.m. at Walnut Beach, and the online $100 People\u2019s Choice award will be announced on the website on Aug. 1.