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    Knights of Sant'Yago invade Tampa in 55th annual parade

    From Channelside to Ybor City, families and friends enjoy a night of pirates and partying.

    [Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
    Cynthia Dawson, 15, keeps the beat for the Dixie County High School marching band Saturday.

    By LINDA GIBSON and ANGELA MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


    TAMPA -- Pirates invaded Ybor City on Saturday night, shooting their way up Seventh Avenue, their pistols blazing with blanks.

    Led by Pirate King Dick Greco and Linda McClintock-Greco, ship after ship brimming with buccaneers spearheaded an invasion force of 126 floats. People greeted the invaders with screams of welcome and chants of "Beads! Beads! Beads!"

    Police expected some 200,000 people would gather to greet the 55th annual Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade. No estimate of the actual turnout was available Saturday night.

    But onlookers in Ybor City wrapped themselves around lampposts, stood on chairs, perched on shoulders and jostled for better bead-catching positions. One person held a stuffed giraffe by the neck and thrust it into the air upside-down, using its legs as bead-catching prongs.

    Experienced paradegoers had their routines down pat.

    Bernandine and Robert Roy of Valrico claimed a prime spot about 4:30 p.m. just in front of the Columbia Restaurant. They brought chairs, coolers, fried chicken, a couple of cases of beer, wine, margarita mix, a camera, extra film and a half-dozen friends.

    At the other end of Seventh Avenue, near Nuccio Parkway, Deena Harrell and her husband had arrived at noon to get a space next to the sidewalk for their Chevrolet pickup truck. They stood in the bed of the pickup, cheering the floats and begging for beads. They also brought beer and lots of friends.

    The variety of beads this year was stunning. Vendors up and down Seventh Avenue offered bead necklaces adorned by tiny alligators, chili peppers, mugs of beer, skulls, aliens, dice, cards, slot machines, four-leaf clovers, hearts, lobsters, fish, the Harley Davidson logo, butterflies, roses, marijuana leaves and more daring and risque things.

    Organizers expected families with children to congregate in the Channelside district. But Seventh Avenue in Ybor City teemed with tots. They had a long wait. The first floats didn't turn onto Seventh until 8 p.m.

    Unlike Gasparilla, the Knights of Sant'Yago parade is really two separate events. There's the Ybor City carousing that lasts well into Sunday morning, and there's the Channelside family fun, complete with juggling jesters on stilts, Ferris wheels and funnel cakes.

    Some families, including the Sullivans and Popes, spread themselves over both.

    Pat Pope of Atlanta, originally from Tampa, and her sister Diana Sullivan of Tampa brought an army of about 20 children and grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces to the Channelside venue. Sullivan's grandsons Vinnie, 4, and Devon, 6, scurried about with their faces masked in pirate paint, already sporting beads. The family picked their spot hours before the parade started, and even brought a small tent for storing essentials such as toys, blankets and snacks.

    "That's their little pirate house," Sullivan said. "This is the highlight of their year. They love it."

    The older kids in the clan, such as Pope's 18-year-old daughter, Malia, were nowhere to be found. They preferred Ybor. Pope tried not to worry, and pointed out that there were plenty of police officers on hand just in case.

    "I've warned her," Pope said. "She knows to check in."

    With the Channelside shops and restaurants mostly complete and ample parking available, the mood Saturday afternoon was sunny, despite the gloomy weather.

    Crowds oohed over Spanish dancers from the historic Columbia Restaurant and gathered around a terrier named Rosie, who jumped through hoops and perched atop a platform on a pole balanced on her master's chin.

    The festivities wound up there early enough for the little ones to make bedtimes, but the parade and partying continued into Ybor City and far into the night.

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