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Children of all ages enjoy parade

Saturday's festivities were a calmer alternative to the adult version of Gasparilla on Jan. 27.

By MELANIE AVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


TAMPA -- Kim Reynolds had just been pelted with flying candy when she looked up and then down and found that her Jeremy had disappeared in the throng of bead-hungry spectators at the Children's Gasparilla Parade on Saturday.

"Get the police, get the police," she screamed, pacing the sidewalk along Tampa Street.

It was every parent's nightmare, but one that ended happily for the Tampa mother after her 3-year-old was discovered moments later along the parade route. He was running to catch up to Ronald McDonald, who was waving from a red- and yellow-striped Volkswagen Beetle.

"They can disappear on you in half a second," said a relieved and embarrassed Reynolds.

The annual downtown parade, held just for the little ones, had parents and officials alike applauding the sunny skies, polite pirates and manageable crowds. The calm was in stark contrast to the partying, traffic jams and record crowds of the adult version of Gasparilla held the day before the Super Bowl.

"It's very family friendly," said Connie Hogan, of Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley, the parade's sponsor. "It's all for the kids. It's all about the kids."

More than 2,000 children and adults on two dozen floats, in bands and in walking groups tossed beads and candy to parents, grandparents and children queued up behind guardrails along the parade route.

Joanne Centeno; her nanny, Jennifer Olsen; and three children strolled past, pulling a three-piece wagon they had converted into a pirate ship on wheels for the Parents Network, a non-profit group that helps parents raise their children. They slung more than 5,000 beads, doling them out to small children and dads in the back.

Instead of hustling for goodies from the adults and children in the parade, 7-year-old William Day and friends Kyle and Alex Reina chose to become pirates themselves. As the majorettes passed and lifted their batons to the sounds of Britney Spears, the wannabe pirates poked sword-shaped balloons at one another.

Lily Auders, 7 months, perched atop the guardrail, supported by her mother, Kristine. With a purple bandana wrapped around her head to look like a pirate, the baby seemed awestruck by the blaring music and passing parade.

"She was sleeping, but she woke up when the parade started," Auders said. "She loves it."

Nine-year-old Ejashia Johnson clutched a handful of Snickers and Smarties, but the most exciting part of the parade was yet to come.

Her sister, Dimitria Pattersaul, 7, would soon march past as part of a cheerleading group with the Copeland Park Recreation Center. "I can't wait," Ejashia said.

Up the street, Donald Lawrence Hayes forgot his 49 years and waved his left arm high in the air to catch beads sailing over the heads of children in front of him.

Was this big man in plaid keeping the necklaces for himself?

"No way," said Hayes, who estimated he had captured more than two dozen strings of beads halfway through the parade.

He had come with his three grandchildren. "I pass them along to all the kids," he said. Just like many of the children, the Riverview man said the highlight for him was seeing Ronald McDonald in person.

As the popular clown passed, the same one that had lured Jeremy Reynolds away from his mother, Hayes yelled: "Hey Ronald! Keep 'em coming. Keep 'em coming!"

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