Paraders march to variety of beats

Fun: In the "inclusive, not exclusive" Preakness Parade, some of the best-loved participants roll, pull, jump or float. Yesterday, one slept.

May 09, 1999|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

With sequins and spangles, steel drums and jump ropes, Baltimore celebrated its glorious goofiness yesterday at the Preakness Parade.

Let other parades enforce their rigid regulations, with flowers-only floats and lock-step lines of march. "This is Baltimore's parade," said Bill Gilmore, director of the city's Office of Promotions. "We're inclusive, not exclusive."

A crowd that Gilmore estimated at 50,000 lined downtown streets for the 26th annual parade, a celebration that included just about everyone who wanted to participate.

There were rope-skipping girls and skateboard-riding dogs. There were homesick Trinidadians re-creating the colorful costumed swirl of Carnival, and hometown youngsters high-stepping to the drumbeats of nearly a dozen community bands. There were birds -- an Oriole mascot, a Raven mascot and a giant, helium-filled woodpecker. Bringing up the rear were 8 tons of elegance: a sleek team of gleaming black Percheron horses pulling a reproduction of a 19th-century grocery wagon.

"I love everything!" chortled 9-year-old Lolita Perry of West Baltimore, jumping with delight at the sight of a pair of motorcycle-riding basset hounds.

The hound dogs, parade veterans, kept their cool as they rode behind owner Larry Geier Sr. of York, Pa., aboard a Honda Valkyrie chosen for its Preakness colors, yellow and black. Misdemeanor, a 9-year-old female, rested her custom-made helmet on her paws and snoozed. Felonious Assault, the 8-year-old male, acknowledged the crowd's applause with an occasional languorous thump of his tail.

Behind them was Precious the Skateboard Dog, a cocker spaniel-Pekingese mix decked out in traditional Preakness regalia: flower-strewn straw hat, matching floral frock and gold-tinted granny glasses. Appearing in her eighth Preakness parade, 10-year-old Precious rode regally on a skateboard pulled by her owner, Don Crockett of Essex.

Like most of the more offbeat entrants, Crockett's parade day display began with a random spark of silliness, kindness or nostalgia that suddenly caught flame. When Precious was a pup, Crockett got into the habit of taking her on visits to senior citizens' centers.

"One day she got too heavy to carry and there was a skateboard in the garage, so I put her on it and she liked it," Crockett explained.

Precious has 11 pairs of sunglasses and 17 outfits, and has appeared in more than 100 parades. "I'll dress her up any day but Halloween," said Crockett. "That's amateur day."

The idea for John Dryer's entry began with a lifelong love of horses. The former top executive at H. J. Heinz Co. has not forgotten the day in 1947 when his father's team of workhorses was sold off the farm to a slaughterhouse, as thousands were after the automobile made them obsolete.

"It was the only time I ever saw my father cry," said Dryer, 61. So, when he took early retirement in 1984, Dryer started an exhibition team of wagon horses -- the Heinz Hitch, beautiful black Percherons weighing 2,000 pounds apiece, trained to work in perfectly harmonious teams of eight.

He and a crew of four helpers train 15 of the horses on his Pennsylvania farm, and go on the road with them about 160 days a year. By the end of each parade, his hands swell and ache from the strain of the eight heavy reins that control the big beauties.

"Don't ever get in a hand-squeezing contest with an eight-horse hitch driver," said Dryer. "It's hard work but it's a rush you get unlike any other, being able to control 16,000 pounds of horses with your eight fingers and two thumbs."

Rick Kirwan of Cambridge, the coach and manager of the Ebony Angels, was a Head Start program manager and a volunteer athletic coach when "Some girls asked me to start a double-dutch jump rope team, and I said, `Well, I don't know anything about it, so tell me what you're doing and I'll help.' "

Since then the Angels, featuring the expert rope-turning of Tionell Waddler, 16, and the athletic handstands of Krisann Martin, 16, have been to Toronto, Seattle, New Orleans and New York to compete in jump-rope tournaments. In 1997, the team won a regional championship, earning the title of best double-dutch jumpers east of the Mississippi between Maine and Virginia.

"We cried," said Tionell. "We didn't think we were good enough to even be in the tournament, much less win."

The Angels were a little nervous about jumping rope in the rain. Early in the day, a scheduled balloon race was canceled because of rain and fog. But the weather later cooperated, turning from drizzle to sizzle shortly before the parade's 11 a.m. start. From the first twirl of the rope at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Chase Street to the last exhausted leap at Pratt Street and Market Place, the Angels' jump-a-thon was rewarded with cheers, applause and shouts of "You go, girl!"

"I'm blushing a little bit," said Krisann. "All the attention. It feels good."

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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