Kindergarten-age baton twirlers decked out in sequins, the El Bekal Shrine Temple Ali Baba Sheiks, and more than a dozen school bands from across the Los Angeles Basin marched past delighted crowds under a beating sun Saturday at the 49th annual Lions Parade Spectacular.
The parade was part of a three-day fish fry and carnival that began Friday and continues today in Lions Park. Organizers said they expect to draw a crowd of 75,000 over the weekend and raise more than $100,000 for a host of charities, including the UC Irvine Organ and Tissue Bank, the Boys and Girls Club and the Costa Mesa Little League.
"It looks like we're going to do extremely well this year. But we don't want it to get too hot, or people will go to the beach," said Mike Scheafer, president of the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club, which sponsors the event and has raised more than $1.6 million for charity in the previous 48 years.
Last year, the parade was canceled for the first time ever due to rain, but Saturday's event was graced by hot weather and clear skies.
"I just love to watch the small kids trying their best," said Felix Duatin, 74, who lives in the nearby Bethel Towers for senior citizens and trained a small video camera on the flag girls and pint-sized baton twirlers. "I've come almost every year for 10 years."
"We come to watch the kids enjoying themselves," said Torribio Ortega, of Costa Mesa, as he tussled with his 4-year-old daughter, Marisela, and covered her with pink Silly String.
More than 300 entrants--bands, drill teams, veterans organizations and local businesses--participated in the parade, which closed Harbor Boulevard at Wilson Street and caused mild traffic snarls. Many who took part--like the Pearl Harbor Survivors' Assn. brigade decked out in Hawaiian shirts--did so this year in honor of the 50th anniversary of D-day.
Alicia Arroyo said she has attended the parade and fish fry since she was a teen-ager and came Saturday in part to root for Estancia High School, her alma mater where her son now goes to school.
"The Lions do so much for people. We try to spend as much money here as we can because we know it all goes to helping others," said Arroyo, 36, of Costa Mesa, whose sister had free eye surgery a decade ago thanks to the Lions Club.
Jessica Romo, 17, came with her cousin, 14-year-old Lei Lani Castro, to cheer on Estancia High School, also.
"We've come here every year since we were really small," she said of the parade. "It's mostly just to see the bands, and the clowns."
One highlight Saturday was the parade's grand marshal--13-year-old actor and former Costa Mesa resident Austin O'Brien. O'Brien, who starred in "My Girl 2" and co-starred in "Last Action Hero," met with high-pitched screams of adulation from a mob of middle-school girls when he took the stage during award ceremonies.
The big thrill for O'Brien, however, was riding in the old Plymouth convertible at the front of the parade: "It was crazy," he said. "It was a really cool car."
The fish fry and carnival continues from noon to 8 p.m. today at Lions Park, at Park Avenue near 18th Street.