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Ybor’s Knight parade, once Gasparilla’s wild child, cleans up image

The nighttime parade was known for flesh and flash, but efforts to crack down on Gasparilla’s excess have extended to Ybor City.
Thousands of people line up to view the Gasparilla Knight Parade as it marches down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City in 2017. Once known for its rowdy party atmosphere, police said they haven't made an arrest at the Knight parade in several years. [Tampa Bay Times (2017)]
Thousands of people line up to view the Gasparilla Knight Parade as it marches down Seventh Avenue in Ybor City in 2017. Once known for its rowdy party atmosphere, police said they haven't made an arrest at the Knight parade in several years. [Tampa Bay Times (2017)]
Published Feb. 7

Like so much of Gasparilla, Saturday’s Krewe of Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade is steeped in historical license, noteworthy names and a heaping helping of naughtiness. Jerry Springer will be there, as will WWE star Titus O’Neil as a parade of floats and marching bands weave through Ybor City’s main drag.

But something has changed. The bawdy bad boy of Gasparilla parades has gone PG-rated.

“Our parade is very family friendly and not as wild as it was decades ago,” says Ray Favata, co-chairman of the parade, stressing that alcohol is not allowed on the parade route streets. “We have not had an arrest during the parade for the past seven or eight years.”

Favata, 51, has been a part of the parade since he was a kid. His grandfather, Joe C. Granda, was one of the five original founders of the Krewe of Sant’ Yago. He was 6 when he first marched in the parade throwing paper streamers.

But he acknowledged he has vivid memories of the wild nights in Ybor back in the 1990s. The famously raucous parade was filled with people leaning over barriers, lifting up shirts, yelling for beads and turning Seventh Avenue into a corridor of flesh and flashbulbs.

Just like Times Square went from a seedy section of New York to a tourist attraction, Gasparilla events have evolved as residents and business owners pushed for a crackdown on the nonsense. Drinking is still prominent, but organizers and police have worked to cut out the raunch.

TV host Jerry Springer, shown here in 2012 when the crowd in Ybor's Gasparilla nighttime parade started chanting "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" will be back for the parade on Saturday. WWE star Titus O'Neil will be grand marshal. [Tampa Bay Times (2012)]

In 2010, Tampa police made a splash of arresting more than 400 people at the annual Gasparilla daytime parade, mostly on alcohol-related charges. With a threat of more of the same for the Knight parade a week later, that year was pretty much problem-free, even with the noise and availability of alcohol at the bars on Seventh Avenue. Police said a more visible presence had an effect. Only three people were arrested during the night parade in 2009, compared with 21 arrests in 2008 and 28 in 2007, according to police reports at the time.

The number dropped to 19 arrests from 2010 to 2019, two felonies and 17 misdemeanors, according to police spokeswoman Jamel Lanee. That number includes 11 arrests in 2011. But since 2013, the “after action” reports the department compiles after events like this have made no mention of arrests, Lanee said, and records show no arrests during the parade in the last two years. The general vibe of the crowd has grown visibly calmer, Favata said.

The Krewe of Sant’ Yago started with five knights in 1970: Henry Fernandez, a doctor; Cesar Gonzmart, the Columbia restaurant owner; Joe Granda, a financier; Joseph Lopez, an insurance executive; and Daniel Martinez, a sales manager. They wanted to honor Tampa and Ybor City’s Latin heritage and culture and differentiate their community from the high-society Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Gonzmart had visited Spain and learned about the Knights of Sant’ Yago, who protected pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Santiago. They named their krewe after Saint James (Sant’ Yago), the patron saint of Spain.

Each of the original five recruited more members and it grew. In 1972, they crowned their first king and held their first parade, separate from the daytime Gasparilla parade. It has since morphed into an organization of more than 250 members. The signature event brings marching bands, celebrities, illuminated floats and the El Rey (king) and La Reina (queen) and their court.

Efforts to make the notorious Sant' Yago Knight Parade in Ybor City more family friendly has resulted in a drop in arrests during the event in recent years. [Tampa Bay Times (2004)]

Capt. Jason Dillaha of Tampa police heads the department’s special incident management unit. He credits multiple efforts for the change in the Knight parade. The department starts planning six months in advance to tweak how it will manage the crowds at an event like the Knight parade.

“Proper planning from us is the first stop but we also do some education with kids before Gasparilla season, and there’s been a concerted effort by everyone to keep people safe and just let everyone enjoy the parade,” Dillaha said.

There are still party hearty types out in force, Favata said. It is Ybor City, after all. But families tend to congregate at the beginning and end of the 10-block parade on Seventh Avenue, near the parking garages. Partiers tend to stick close to Centro Ybor, he said.

Most everyone in the crowd, estimated at close to 100,000 some years, will be draped in beads by the end. Even the statue of Vicente Martinez-Ybor, cigar industry pioneer and founder of Ybor City, will undoubtedly be covered in necklaces.

“My advice is to get there early, get some food and a bleacher seat or a good spot,” Favata said. “The parade starts early at 7 p.m. and you can be out of there by 9:30 before any of the real partying gets under way.”

IF YOU GO

Krewe of Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade

Meet and greets with WWE star Titus O’Neil, TV host Jerry Springer and WBPP FM-98.7′s shark mascot Spike are from 4-5 p.m. in Centro Ybor, 1600 E Eighth Ave. The parade is free, but you can buy a reserved seat starting at $25. 7 p.m. Saturday. E Seventh Avenue and N 14th Street, Tampa. krewesantyago.org.

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