Gasparilla begins with the kids
By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
The event did not draw the 100,000 people organizers had hoped for, but authorities estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 people lined the 1.5-mile route and scrambled for candy and beads.
Children dashed through the grass scooping up necklaces and wrapping them around their chests until they resembled plastic mummies.
Pizza and ice cream stands in the area did a brisk business.
Children raced back and forth, building caches of goodies at their parents' feet. The celebration was capped off by fireworks launched from barges in Hillsborough Bay.
"It's really pretty, all the kids and the floats, it's a more family-oriented event," said Connie Brown of St. Petersburg, who attended the parade with her husband, Jim, and their three children, twins Ashley and Andrew, 7, and Madie, 2.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which sponsors the larger Gasparilla parade Saturday, organized the children's event this year with EventMakers, its marketing company. That krewe took over the duties from Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley, which had worked to breathe life back onto the event.
The children's parade has enjoyed a revival since three years ago, when only a few thousand showed up for it.
Still, the parade is a warmup for Tampa's biggest party, which will reach maximum rowdiness next weekend as hundreds of thousands of people pack the streets.
Saturday's parade started at Bay to Bay Boulevard and concluded at Rome Avenue. More than 40 krewes turned out to roll through the streets.
The Maverick Krewe wore cowboy hats and black vests, the Krewe of Pair O' Dice rode in a giant riverboat float, and the Rough Riders Krewe, formed in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, waved to the crowd from a locomotive pulling a small trolley.
The pirate theme was everywhere, whether it was in eye patches, plastic swords or Buccaneers football jerseys.
For many children, this was the first Gasparilla experience.
On the floats, the first lesson for rookies was bead-throwing. Adults reminded the youngsters to hold onto their beads and throw them only when the parade began.
Along the route, first-timers accumulated colorful baubles. One first-timer was 16-month-old Zach Roher, who enjoyed Gasparilla from the shoulders of his father, Keith, 32. As dad caught the flying beads, he placed them around Zach's neck and the boy gently tugged at them.
Also Saturday was the traditional sea battle -- the weapons are volleys of bread and streams of water -- between the city's navy and the invading pirates in the Ybor channel. The ritual battle opens the way for the pirates' invasion next weekend.
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