MANATEE -- Four high school marching bands have pulled out of this year's Hernando DeSoto Historical Society Grand Parade, leaving only Manatee and Southeast high schools and Community Christian School to carry the tunes.
Raucous spectator behavior, lack of financial support and crowded schedules are among the reasons given for the major public high school exodus. Last year's parade lineup included Lakewood Ranch, Braden River, Bayshore and Palmetto high schools from Manatee County.
"We actually have three major conflicts going into this weekend, so 75 percent of the band has other responsibilities going on," said Braden River Principal Jennifer Gilray. "All of the seniors are at the Grad Bash at Universal Studios. We also have the Student Business Leaders Association and the choir state competitions and our kids are in that. This happens about every four years and we do plan on marching in the parade next year."
But, Gilray added concerns exist regarding parade safety.
"We had communicated that to the DeSoto organization and the band organizations, and they had increased security for the parents who walk with the bands and the bands," she said. "They are doing everything they can to improve security. We did not pull out at all because of security or safety."
No specific reason was given at Lakewood Ranch High School.
"It was simply a decision made by the director," band director Ron Lambert said. "We've been having these discussions for three months."
Lakewood Ranch Band Boosters' Association President Chrissy Harshman supported his decision.
When she was in high school band in Hillsborough County, Harshman recalled, "we used to march in the Gasparilla Parade. It was raucous. If it's about our kids' safety and that's the reason they're making the call, I really have to go along with that. But I really don't know anything specific."
In the past few weeks, DeSoto parade co-chairman Chris Wilkinson said he heard some schools, including Palmetto, were having trouble raising the money to participate.
"With the bands, most of the activity occurs in the fall," he said. "They need funds to clean the uniforms, pay for buses and so forth."
Manatee High has an advantage since the parade starts there and most of the parade route goes through neighborhoods served by MHS, Manatee High School assistant band director Linda Boone said.
Sometimes people along the parade route will make comments about a rival school, she said.
"Over the years, people have expressed worry about security because sometimes the crowd can get a little rowdy," Boone said. "It's unfortunate that sometimes the people can get a little bit rude toward the people going by. We just talk about it from time to time how some years the crowd is more difficult."
After all, the Manatee alumna said, "I don't think the DeSoto parade would happen if we weren't in it."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet DeeGrahamBH.