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Life marches along as parades left behind
Life marches along as parades left behind
Every Friday for seven years, my daughter Katie attended practice as a member of the Kenston Sparklette junior drill team, a group that performs dance routines while marching in area parades. For seven years, the only Fridays on which Katie was not at Sparklette practice were during the squad's brief off-season -- from mid-October through the end of December.
This past October, as an eighth-grader, she performed with the squad for the last time, because the team is for girls in first grade through eighth grade (although kindergartners can serve as team mascots). As she received her ridiculously huge trophy -- the size is determined by the number of years a girl has been on the squad -- I realized that not only were we witnessing the end of a major stage of Katie's life but of our whole family's as well.
It all began when Katie was in first grade and we attended our first Kenston homecoming parade. When the Kenston Sparklettes marched by in pink and teal-blue uniforms, performing a dance routine with monstrous pink-and-silver pompoms, Katie was transfixed and declared that she had to become one of them.
We signed her up, paid the fee, filled out the forms and dropped her off at her first practice. She was among the squad's youngest members, dwarfed by the experienced middle-schoolers. Surely, my little-bitty 7-year-old would never be that big and grown up.
She happily went to practice each week and told us stories about the routines she was learning, along with her 50-plus fellow squad members. The first time I peeked through the gym doors to glimpse the girls working on their routines, the squad had only been practicing for a few weeks. I became choked up at the sight of Katie in that line, performing that routine as if she owned the place.
Soon, we became familiar with the schedule of parades in which the Sparklettes marched: A parade on each day of the Chardon Maple Festival in early spring, the Chagrin Falls Blossom Time parade on Memorial Day weekend, a July Fourth parade in Aurora or elsewhere, an Auburn Township Harvest Festival parade in August, the Kenston homecoming parade and a final recital for parents at the end of the season in October. Along the way, there were other special performances, including one at the Q before a Rockers game (remember the Rockers?), one on the lawn between the Q and the Jake (when it was still the Jake), before an Indians game and a couple at the Bainbridge Police Station.
At Katie's first end-of-the-season recital, when she received her teeny, little first-year trophy, she vowed to remain a Sparklette long enough to receive a trophy as big as she saw the most senior team members receive that day.
For the first year of parades, my husband, son and I would drop Katie off at the Sparklette staging area, set up folding chairs at a prime spot along the parade route and then visit whatever festival was being held at the time. For my son, Noah, there would be rides, junk food and games before the parade began. At the parade itself, he collected candy tossed into the crowd by those marching by.
Sometime after the firetrucks, soldiers, beauty queens, those guys in funny little cars, politicians, dogs and baton twirlers, the Sparklettes would appear, their arrival foretold by a distant glint of silver poms, just visible beyond the last firetruck or politician's red convertible.
As the Sparklettes marched past us along the parade route, I would follow them along the sidewalks, often elbowing my way through piles of sweaty parade-goers, to ensure that I would arrive at the end of the parade route when the Sparklettes did. That's where parents reclaimed their girls.
In those early years of Katie's Sparklette career, there was always an older girl or two who served as mentors to the younger ones. In particular, I remember Gina. The smaller girls gravitated to Gina, who granted piggy-back rides, hugs and general help and support to the wide-eyed tots. Gina and the other older girls often performed on the Sparklette front line, providing visual cues to the younger girls in rows further back. I remember the day the coach first placed Katie at the front of that line in practice, marking a turning point in her Sparklette tenure.
The years passed, and our Fridays remained dedicated to the Sparklettes. Parades came and went. Some were freezing. Some sweltering. Some muddy. Some dry. Along the way, the team ditched the pink-and-teal uniforms for sleek blue-and-silver numbers in the proper Kenston colors, only to have to replace them again a few years later when the original manufacturer went out of business.
Each year, the team newcomers seemed to get littler as Katie got bigger and found herself in the front of the line more often. One day I noticed the smaller girls gravitating to Katie, hanging on her, desperate for a hug from their favorite Sparklette. She had become the new Gina.
As Katie began what we knew would be her last year as a Sparklette, we ceremoniously marked each parade off her list of remaining performances. Soon, she was facing her last recital and her last day in a Sparklette uniform. The girls performed, and then the coach made her customary remarks as she handed out trophies, saving Katie, the only eighth-grader, for last. The coach made some very nice comments about Katie's longevity and dedication and even presented flowers and a gift to the rest of us in the family for hanging in there so long. It was a fitting end to a fun and fulfilling chapter in our family book, but we were ready to turn the page.
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