From Michael Blum, Parade Chairman, Vice President, Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc:
To the Dagger:
I’ve never written a letter to the Dagger before! But as the coordinator of the Bel Air July 4th parade, it’s incumbent upon me to thank the individuals and businesses that helped make the parade yesterday a reality.
Much of what the public sees when it views a parade is the result of behind-the-scenes work that is necessarily invisible. Many people do not realize that the Bel Air July 4th Parade, as part of the overall Independence Day celebrations in Bel Air, is funded and run by an independent not-for-profit organization, the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc., which has a vision of what the parade should be, and tries, to the best of its ability, to bring that vision to reality. One way we do that is to choose a “theme” for the parade, both as a guide to our units in how to decorate themselves, and as a yardstick the independent judges can use to evaluate the entries.
Our theme this year, of course, was “America the Beautiful,” and although it is not mandatory that a unit “demonstrate” this theme, we really hope that many, if not most, will try to do so. Remember, the Committee does not create the units, but it does choose which ones to accept into the parade, although “what a unit will look like” or “what a band will sound and look like” is impossible to tell in advance.
We have had some very nice surprises over the years — for instance, yesterday, one of the floats — Great Hope Bible Church — was one of the absolutely best float entries I have ever seen in 18 years of running this parade. What creativity! I found out (quite by accident) later that it all came together in the 10 days before the parade, beginning with the donation of the flatbed by the chaplain of the Bel Air Police Department, and the brave decision of one spirited woman to “be” the Statue of Liberty! I was happy to learn today that the judges deemed this float the best in the parade!
If there is a weather issue, too, that will affect everything. People might remember our rain years (we have had a LOT of rain years)! We used to bring “Mummers Bands” down from Philadelphia for the parade, but one year one of them refused to get off its bus because the drizzle, they said, might ruin the costumes. Can’t very well blame them for that! Yesterday’s parade, which was at the end of a sunny day, yes, but one in the 90+ degree range, saw some bands opt for “summer practice uniforms” that were basically gym shorts and t-shirts; others went with full regalia including heavy woolen uniforms, black hats, etc.
The actual deployment of the parade is also hard work — I don’t know if anyone realizes it, but we “create” the order of the parade, unit by unit, at the time of insertion into the parade route — there is no pre-arranged order. At the start point, we take a look at what is there, and alternate the types of units (color guards, floats, marchers, bands, cars, clowns, etc.), depending on music, spacing, flow, color, etc. — trying to create a nice, diverse showing with great patriotic, visual and aural appeal, to the extent possible. This means we have to coordinate input as to “who’s next up?” via constant communication with the various “feeder” marshals of the overall categories of units, of which there are 10: comic units, color guards, horses, floats, marching units, mobile units, bands, big car clubs, notables/elected officials, and fire companies, many of whom are deployed on a “first-in, first-out” basis within each category.
Now, in bygone years we used to do all that ahead of time, by creating “divisions,” in which we would pre-set an alternating order of units. Then, in the staging, the marshals would put each unit into its pre-determined place. But the current area in which we stage does not allow that, due to the size of the streets. Also, even with pre-arranged divisions, “no-shows” sometimes would ruin a pre-set arrangement — causing great conniptions and trouble for the narration at the reviewing stand, where a harassed narrator would be reading from a script based on the planned order. There always are no-shows in a parade that has over 150 separate units planning to appear; typically 10-15 units per parade simply “fail to post.” Not a surprise — an engine won’t start, or someone gets sick, or a horse seems skittish, or a fire company has to be deployed to cover an emergency — but there’s no way in advance to know. We learned this year, only a few days before the parade, that there would be no fly-over, due to reassignment of military and Guard resources based on budget cuts and Homeland Security concerns.
So, I need to send many, many thanks to our marvelous parade marshals Sophie Wittelsberger, Janet Leedy, Tim Ingram, Lloyd Shue, Matt Heidenreich, Keith Smithson (from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company), John Cubbage, Chuck Christian, Vincent Nohe, Katy Nohe, Alex Krowzow, Ken Deane, Jacob Deane, Matt Hoopes, Steve Pugh, Ed Paulsen, Sean Paulsen, Brad Paulsen, Keith Huebel, Bill Smith, Colin Stratford, Lindsay Leedy, Jess Siemly, Annette Blum, Lisa Williams, Rachel Eibling, Roger Staso, Peggy Staso, Don Berk, Matt Siebold, Ann Siebold, Greg Cooper, Ron Eastridge, Aaron Cahall, Dave Andrews, Jack Deal, David Williams, Michelle Kaster, Mary Dean, Laura Blum and Don Stewart. Many of you were new this year; many of you are teenagers; all of you are magnificent!
Mary Anne Williams and her family did a wonderful job decorating the reviewing stand, helped out immeasurably by Asst. Chief Rick Davis and volunteers from the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company. Great job, guys! Communications were ably handled by Larry Leedy. Thanks also to Boy Scout Troops 777 and 313, many of whose members were our marshals, and to Troop 564, the Bel Air High School Bobcats Football Team and the Fountain Green Swim Club, our flag-givers and banner carriers. M&T Bank, led by Debbie Williams and Kim Wagner, again came through as our Parade Flag Sponsor; I walked the route at the end of the parade and it was great to see all those American flags waving — thanks, Debbie!
Don Morrison did a wonderful job narrating the parade, assisted by our first-ever electronic parade narration communication team, which used text messaging to make sure the order of about 150 parade units was relayed from the start point to the reviewing stand exactly as the units deployed. The texting team included Sophie Wittelsberger, Lindsay Leedy, Jess Siemly and Laura Blum. I believe that the accuracy of the script that Don got to read from, as compared to the actual flow of units in front of the reviewing stand, was the highest it has EVER been! I’m only sorry that we can’t somehow amplify Don’t narration to the entire parade, because it somehow seems unfair that only the people sitting in around the reviewing stand — probably amounting to about 200 feet of the 1.1 mile parade route — get to hear him!
The Committee also relies on the contributions of businesses and municipalities — contributions of time, effort, and funds. In these challenging economic times, it is doubly and triply significant that our Committee has received such support from our community, beginning with our premier sponsor, Harford Mutual Insurance Company. Other major sponsors were M&T Bank, our Flags Sponsor; and Point Breeze Credit Union, our Program Sponsor.
Our Band Sponsors for 2010 were Balsamo, Stewart, Lutters & Ruth, CPAs; Buontempo Brothers/Tower Restaurant; The Festival at Bel Air Shopping Center; HAR-CO Maryland Federal Credit Union; Jones Junction; Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland; Oak Contracting, Inc.; Parris-Castoro Eye Care Center; Plaza Ford; PNC Bank; SAIC; and TD Bank.
Sponsoring organizations overall of the event include the Bel Air Auxiliary Police Unit, the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., the Town of Bel Air, Harford County Parks & Recreation, and the Lions Club of Bel Air. The Committee also receives contributions from dozens of individuals and businesses. We have listed them in the official program and on our web site (http://www.belairjuly4.org).
The Committee was also greatly aided by the cooperation of the Town of Bel Air Commissioners and Town Administrator Christopher Schlehr; Police Chief Leo Matrangola; Deputy Chief Armand Dupre, the Bel Air Police Department, and Town of Bel Air Public Works personnel. Joyce Oliver and Laura Stafford from the Town of Bel Air Administration helped a great deal as well, especially arranging for the Bel Air Independence Day Committee to use of the Bel Air Reckord Armory to house five out-of-state bands in Bel Air. Band Directors Mary Lynn Twentey of C. Milton Wright High School, Richard Hauf of Havre de Grace High School, Andrew Griglock of North Harford High School, Brendon Bickham of Edgewood High School, Ronald Burke of Patterson Mill High School and Daniel Briggs of John Carroll School also deserve high marks for turning their bands out in such great numbers and with such great spirit, in the midst of summer vacation and over a holiday weekend!
The independent judges awarded the HARFORD COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL BEL AIR JULY 4TH PARADE TROPHY for 2010 to the C. Milton Wright High School Marching Mustang Band.
To return to my description of the units in the parade — thinking about the many businesses, churches, clubs, individuals, organizations and groups who participated, I must say that these exemplify what it means to be public-spirited, patriotic and community-minded. I want to also thank our elected public officials for their cooperation and spirited participation.
We also send our grateful appreciation to the residents and businesses on Bond Street, Rockspring Road, Ellendale Street and Gordon Street, who kindly allowed us to marshal the parade in front and all around them on Sunday afternoon and evening! Particular thanks goes to Klein’s ShopRite, which gave us total use of their parking lots at their Main Street location and those of the ShopRite Gas-N-Go filling station from 4 pm until the parade was over. We also owe a great debt of gratitude to Harford Mutual Insurance Company, our Premier Sponsor, which allowed us to use its parking lots to marshal Marching Units, Notable People, Beauty Queens, Horses and Elected Public Officials.
Without all this support, we could not have held the parade.
Thanks also goes to the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, Inc., and especially to Asst. Chief Rick Davis, who really did everything we asked, and were always there to help. Our 6 independent Parade Judges (who choose to remain anonymous) did fine work evaluating and ranking the various units in categories for performance and appearance awards and prizes. The complete list of parade prizes and awards is posted on our web site at http://www.belairjuly4.org.
In any big production like a parade, unexpected things are bound to happen. I have always likened our parade to “the world’s biggest amateur theatrical production” — one with tens of thousands of spectators, thousands of actors, and no rehearsal! A thing goes wrong and is fixed; something turns out differently than expected (“Is THAT the xyz entry?”) but we cope with it. And — lucky for us — there’s always someone who steps up and takes over some critical job on the spot. In the military, in wartime, medals are given for this kind of selfless conduct; okay, we just run a July 4th parade, but still, we have our star performers. My vote for the “unsung hero” award this year goes to parade marshal Steve Pugh, with an honorable mention to “a couple of bottles of Gatorade.” The entire Parade Committee also wishes to thank Deputy Chief of Police Armand Dupre for his dedication to the parade, and we look forward to seeing him again soon.
And finally, I’d like to personally thank Don Stewart, President of the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc., for his hard work, support, sensitivity, organization, dedication, flexibility and thoughtfulness. If anyone deserves acclaim but doesn’t get it, that person is Don. He has led the Bel Air Independence Day Committee for over 15 years now, and if anyone enjoys his or her day in Bel Air on July 4, the person to recognize as responsible for it all is Don Stewart.
Vice President, Bel Air Independence Day Committee, Inc.