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Fun 'N Sun parade cries out to crowd

The city's town crier will lead the Fun 'N Sun Illuminated Night Parade on Saturday, ringing a school bell and reading from a scroll.

A colorful assortment of what parade organizers call "units" will follow the crier, who in real life is Betsy Clement, an information management specialist with the city of Clearwater.

"I'm certainly honored to have this distinction," said Clement, who dresses in a pirate costume for her role as town crier.

Clement will ride in a car along the 2-mile parade route, which starts just west of Highland Avenue. A song she has written and recorded about what a town crier would have been like in Clearwater during the 18th century will play as she cruises along Cleveland Street.

This year's parade, which starts at 7:35 p.m., will boast 107 units, including 30 shimmering floats and three high school marching bands.

"It's a real nice event for the community," parade chairwoman Sue Everett said. "It's great for families. That's what's neat about parades."

Though the Fun 'N Sun procession isn't quite as popular as Gasparilla, the annual pirate-themed parade in Tampa, it's bigger than the Festival of States parade in St. Petersburg, according to Everett.

"We have a bigger crowd and we have more units," she said.

The parade wasn't always so extravagant. It started out as a small event to keep tourists in town longer. That was 45 years ago.

Eventually, it moved from March to May and became more of a community event than a marketing tool.

Today it is one of the city's biggest celebrations, capping the annual Fun 'N Sun Festival, a 17-day run of concerts, sporting activities and community events.

"The parade really is the showpiece of Fun 'N Sun," said Everett, who has been a parade volunteer since 1988.

One of Everett's favorite entries is the Immaculate Collection Car Club, which is making its second appearance in the parade.

"It's too cool," she said. "These cars hop down the parade route."

The club's members, all teens and young adults, will cruise the strip in their customized wheels: neon lights, massive speaker systems and hydraulic systems that raise and lower the chassis of their low-rider cars and trucks.

"It's not your father's Impala," Everett chuckled. "They're pretty wild."