St. Patrick's Day Parade turns Hilton Head into a sea of green

astice@islandpacket.comMarch 12, 2012 

Members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians march along the parade route during the 29th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sunday on Hilton Head Island. A large crowd packed the street to witness the parade and enjoy an afternoon of festivities.

JONATHAN DYER/THE ISLAND PACKET

Munching on a chocolate chip cookie dyed green with food coloring, Charles Sampson watched Hilton Head Island's 29th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade with family and friends from a picnic table set up in a prime spot: the median before the traffic circle on Pope Avenue.

Sampson said he knows the best vantage point because he has been coming to the parade every year since its inception.

He isn't the only one: this year, organizers estimate that more than 20,000 people once again flocked to the parade, helping it earn its spot as one of March's Top 20 Tourism Events in the Southeast.

The O'Grady family of four from Kansas City, Mo., used rental bikes to get to the parade from their vacation spot. They've been coming for the past three years in a row because the parade coincides with their spring break, mom Laurie O'Grady said.

It was tough for her son Jimmy to pick out which float had been his favorite.

"I liked all of it!" he said.

"He especially likes the candy they throw out," Laurie whispered.

This year's event may have been the biggest spectacle of all. There were 103 entries in the parade, including floats, cheerleaders, vintage cars, musical acts and even adoptable animals from the Hilton Head Humane Society. A record seven marching bands provided the tunes, ranging from area high school bands to the ever-popular Parris Island Marine Corps band.

For the first time in parade history, the event had a presenting sponsor, with Merchant Service Center providing $10,000 or about half of the cost of staging the event.

Organizer Rocky O'Sheill said he hopes they'll be able to get even more sponsors to sign on for next year's festivities.

"This year I thought it went very well," O'Sheill said. "I heard a lot of comments from spectators saying that it was the best parade yet."

At a stand on Pope Avenue selling beads, green wigs and other gear emblazoned with shamrocks and Irish flags, Sybil Kraft was still doing a brisk business after the parade had wrapped up and most spectators had wandered home or to nearby restaurants for beer and music.

Kraft and her husband, George Baron Kraft, are part of the Omar Shrine Temple in Columbia and have been coming to the parade for the past eight years, she said. While George rode in the parade in his 1929 Model T, she was selling St. Patrick's Day-themed merchandise to raise money for Shriners Hospitals for Children.

"There were a lot more people this year, and I love seeing them out with their children," she said. "Last year, we raised $800. This year, I think we'll get to $1,200 or more!"

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.

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