Lynn Bauer and Hal Wanless rented out one of the grandstands for their friends and family to enjoy the Junior Orange Bowl Parade in Coral Gables.
The couple sent out hand-written invitations to their guests. They decked the bleachers with large blue banners that read “The Bauer-Wanless Bunch.” They paid for each of their guests’ tickets — nearly 300 of them — and catered the affair.
The bunch enjoyed burgers, hotdogs, chips and sweets. It’s been a tradition for eight years.
“There’s nothing more fun and innocent and sweet than a parade,” said Bauer, who has lived in Coral Gables for 25 years and owns Bauer Financial. “I would do anything to keep this tradition alive.”
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After the King Orange Jamboree Parade in downtown Miami was discontinued in early 2002, Wanless, chairman and professor of geological sciences at the University of Miami, said it was important to keep the tradition of the Junior Orange Bowl Parade.
“This is the essence of the community,” he said.
Wanless’ daughter-in-law, Shannon Wanless, drove from Hollywood to see Sunday’s parade with her husband, Ryan, and 13 month-old son, Reilly. This was the couple’s third year attending the parade and Reilly’s first.
“He’s going to love all the lights and sounds,” Shannon said.
She and her husband see Hal only a few times a year, so they used the parade as an opportunity to tell him they were expecting another child. Shannon is almost three months pregnant.
The parade, with its Route 66 theme, made its way south on Ponce de Leon Boulevard from Alhambra Circle and west on Coral Way, along the stretch of Miracle Mile, ending at City Hall.
It’s the signature event of the Junior Orange Bowl International Youth Festival, which consists of 15 athletic, academic and artistic events for young people 8 to 18. The festival stretches from October through March and attracts 7,500 participants from 76 countries.
The festival also includes events for kids with physical disabilities. The festival is held by the Junior Orange Bowl, a nonprofit organization, and is mainly sponsored by Coral Gables, Miami Children’s Hospital, Miami-Dade County and the Orange Bowl.
“We want to provide our youth the opportunity to showcase their strengths and talents in a wholesome, competitive way,” said Jessica Cerda-Antomarchi, executive director of the Junior Orange Bowl. “It’s important to show kids that they can have a competitive side, but to also show sportsmanship.”
Thousands of residents and visitors lined Miracle Mile to watch Sunday evening’s parade. Hundreds more packed the bleachers adjacent to Coral Gables City Hall.
Charles Davis, 52, a retired firefighter, worked in the Coral Gables Fire Department for 25 years. He retired nine years ago after suffering a stroke.
His mother drove a parking-enforcement cart in the earlier years of the parade. She quit her job with the city when she became pregnant with Davis. His father drove an antique fire truck in the parade when Davis was a kid, and he used to ride in the truck with his dad.
After he became a Coral Gables firefighter, Davis drove the same antique fire truck during the parade for 20 years.
“I’ve probably been involved in this parade in one way or another for longer than a lot of people here,” he said.
His two daughters, Delaney, 16, and Carly, 13, rode in the truck with him when they were little. Davis’ girls and wife were with him at the parade.
“Tradition is what keeps me coming back,” he said.
The parade included 63 floats, dozens of musical performers, a fleet of classic cars, from Bel Airs to Thunderbirds, firefighters in antique trucks, police on motorcycles and an appearance by Santa Claus. Parade volunteers threw oranges into the crowds sitting on the bleachers. Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” blared from the speakers. Vendors sold turkey legs, meat skewers, cotton candy and popcorn.
The Coral Gables Police Department started preparing a couple of months before the parade. Police Chief Edward Hudak recalled “miscues” from parades past, including one year when a float broke down on the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Coral Way and another year when a tall float got caught under a traffic signal on the same corner.
“Some of the fun things are the miscues,” Hudak said. “And it’s great to see the officers interact with the community.”
Preparations for next year’s Junior Orange Bowl Parade are already underway. The parade is a year-round, volunteer-driven event.
“This is more than just a parade,” Cerda-Antomarchi said. “It’s our way of saying thank you to the community for supporting us throughout the year.”