Annual Knight Parade lights up Ybor with family-friendly revelry

The Knights of Sant'Yago Parade entertains throngs in a less-rowdy Gasparilla alternative.
Father Leo Markert, 78, a Catholic priest from Schenectady, N.Y., receives a rose from a parade participant — plus lots of beads. RICH SHOPES   |   Times
Father Leo Markert, 78, a Catholic priest from Schenectady, N.Y., receives a rose from a parade participant — plus lots of beads.RICH SHOPES | Times
Published February 15 2015
Updated February 15 2015

TAMPA — Revelers hooted and danced. They jumped with outstretched arms.

The throngs who crowded 7th Avenue in Ybor City for the Knights of Sant'Yago Parade on Saturday night didn't leave disappointed.

Revelry flowed onto 7th Avenue for the annual parade, a tamer cousin to the raucous, drunken Gasparilla, which draws hundreds of thousands.

Unlike Gaparilla's "wet zone," which stretches along the parade route on Bayshore Boulevard in south Tampa, drinking at the 40-year-old parade is restricted to Ybor's bars. Scores of children also joined the revelers, giving the event a family feel as the illuminated floats chugged past.

Organizers expected about 100,000 paradegoers along the milelong route between Nuccio Parkway and 23rd Street. As the two-hour parade got started at 7 p.m., many couples joined the crowds to glimpse the 125 floats and clamor for beads on what was also Valentine's Day.

"It's at night. It's cooler and it's in Ybor," said Jacqueline Vela, a Carrollwood mother of three teenage children — two boys and a girl. "I come every year. I wish more events like this were held in Ybor."

Vela said she has another reason for attending: She's fighting cancer and wants to cherish each moment with her children. As crowds leaned over the 4-foot fences, Vela leaned with them, yelling, laughing and reaching out for the multicolored strands.

"It's about making memories," she said.

Daughter Mia Vela, 16, concurred: "My mom gets really excited."

Father Leo Markert, 78, a retired Catholic priest from Schenectady, N.Y., was making his fifth visit to the annual parade. Within a half hour, his shoulders were draped with beads.

"One year I had so many beads I was walking around like this," he said, leaning forward about a foot and laughing.

"I give them to my sister and she gives them to the kids."

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @richshopes.

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