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Pint-sized pirates invade Children's Gasparilla Parade

TAMPA

The Stevensons woke up early Saturday morning, ignoring the dire forecasts of gusty cold and putting the final touches on their makeshift ship.

Painted cardboard around the sides of the family's little wagon became the wooden hull. Elmer's Glue held shiny plastic coins in a paper treasure chest.

And in a comfortable nook at the stern, 5-year-old Jada took her seat.

Finally. Parade day.

"Anytime the news came on showing scenes from last year, she started hopping all around the house," said Jada's mother, Sonya Stevenson, 46, of Brandon. "She was really looking forward to it."

She wasn't the only one.

Hundreds of little pirates invaded Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday for the annual Children's Gasparilla Parade.

They battled each other with plastic swords, stuffed their cheeks with cotton candy and corn dogs, caught colorful beads and gave their best Jose Gaspar impressions.

"Aaaarrrggggg," growled brothers Ian and Eduardo Alejo of Plant City.

This was the fourth year Ian, 9, and Eduardo, 7, attended the kid-friendly fest. Before the parade even started, they'd already snagged some loot — bags full of goodies from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and a bevy of beads.

For the Alejos and most of the other attendees, it was a welcome alternative to next weekend's massive Gasparilla Pirate Fest, which infamously draws a hard-partying adult crowd.

"Some of my friends won't bring their kids to the other one," said Michelle Vrooman, a 41-year-old flight attendant who dressed up in a red pirate shirt and prepared to toss beads with the Krewe of Alegria. "It's good to have a separate one."

Along the parade route, 7-year-old Takiya Swilley and 8-year-old Tamiyah Crawford reached over the metal barrier as a strand of gold plastic flew through the air. Then they giggled as a little boy in a parrot costume walked by.

"I like how they dress up the little kids," Takiya said of the preschooler's stroll before the main event.

Added Tamiyah: "It's very cute when they decorate the wagons."

But the real fun, the girls said, comes later.

The main parade began with motorcycle police officers flashing their lights as they made single line and figure-eight formations on the road.

Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops followed behind them, trying desperately to hurl the bead strands over barriers 15 feet away. The beads that fell in the street were scooped up and distributed by jovial police officers smiling and laughing with the crowd.

Some of the smaller children received beads from members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla such as Brian Grieves, 49, who walked up and down the parade route outside the barriers.

"You know it's sometimes hard for the small kids to get beads," he explained.

The fabled pirate ship was also on the water blasting its canons just as the Bloomingdale High School marching band passed by N Albany Avenue.

Temperatures dropped into the low 50s as the procession of pirate ship floats made its way down Bayshore.

Tiny gloved hands still shot up every time beads were hurled from a moving vehicle.

As the sun set, some parents decided to call it a day, and others waited for the next part of the show — fireworks.

"When they have the fireworks, everyone goes crazy," Tamiyah said.

Priya Gopalan, 42, a University of Florida researcher, brought her two kids all the way from Gainesville.

Six-year-old Sophia seemed a little surprised that she had as much fun as she did.

"I don't like the Disney ride Pirates of the Caribbean. It's too scary," she explained.

"It's not too scary for me!" boasted her 3-year-old brother, Sid.

Down the road, 9-year-old Luke Nye showed off a couple of brag-worthy scars adorning his face — the handiwork of his mom, Darlene, 40, and a touch of black paint.

"I like pirates. I like when they fight and stuff," Luke said. With his bravado, plus two gleaming plastic swords, he was ready.

Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Pint-sized pirates invade Children's Gasparilla Parade 01/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 11:13pm]

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