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Gasparilla's opening events focus on kids

A version of this story appears in regional editions of the Times today.

Gasparilla festivities kick off Saturday with events along Bayshore Boulevard especially geared for kids _ including a parade, aerobatics and a synchronized fireworks display over the water.

About 125,000 people are expected to attend Saturday's parade, which will feature about 100 units, bicycle safety clinics and food stands, and it will culminate with a huge fireworks display.

"This is the centennial celebration of Gasparilla. There will be some extra fun things," said Darrell Stefany, president of EventMakers Corp., which manages and markets the parade.

The parade is the first of several celebrations for this historic Gasparilla season. It will be followed Feb. 7 with Pirate Fest, and culminate with the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts March 6-7, Stefany said.

Along with the children's parade, there will be an air show featuring the Red Baron Squadron. These World War II Stearman biplanes will zoom over Hillsborough Bay at 2 and 4 p.m. before the parade starts at 4:30.

There has been a new emphasis on the children's parade, with the route shifting from downtown to Bayshore, and much more to see and do. Last year, attendance rose to 125,000, up from a couple of thousand in 1999.

The parade organizers are providing a wheelchair-accessible viewing area and handicapped parking at the intersection of Howard Avenue and Bayshore. Parking will be by handicapped-parking permit only along Howard, west of Bayshore.

The parade includes 43 professional and homemade floats, incorporating the work of 35 krewes.

A 23-minute fireworks show by Zambelli Fireworks International will cap the evening at 7 p.m. Planners say the best viewing for this will be along Bayshore from Bay to Bay to Rome Avenue. The fireworks will be choreographed to music broadcast live on WMTX, 100.7 FM.

The pirate ship Jose Gasparilla will be incorporated into the show with special lighting techniques by Bay Stage Lighting Co. of Tampa.