Group with mental disabilities leads parade for first time
Feb. 19, 2011 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated Feb. 20, 2011 at 8:21 p.m.
There's a new grand marshal in town - several dozen, actually.
For the first time in the Victoria Livestock Show parade's 65 years, an organization was selected to lead the festivities.
The Victoria Association for Citizens with Disabilities rose to the challenge in full force, boasting four full trailers of its members.
"It's a great honor," the association's president, Barbara Brooks, said. "They're so happy and excited to ride in the parade."
Brooks made the rounds to each trailer, handing out pinwheels, encouraging them to wave and asking, "Ya'll like being in the parade?"
Responses ranged from roaring "yeah's," to "oh yeah's."
Poised in chairs on the second trailer, the association's princess, Fran Schmidt, shared the spotlight with top bowler Mark Torres.
Proudly showing off her tiara, Schmidt boasted, "I'm the queen today."
Torres held his trophy high, which he won after scoring 51 strikes in 11 weeks of bowling.
"I'm undefeated," he said.
"They're beaming with excitement," Victoria Jaycees President Dian Patterson said. "They were so appreciative that we elected them to be grand marshal."
Most clad in cowboy hats and bandanas, members of the social group passed the time before their parade debut chewing on straw, chatting with each other and practicing their waves.
"My viewpoint is a whole bunch of people don't get to see special needs people out in public as a group," Brooks said. "So we're very happy to see people and let people see them."
Parade-goers couldn't help but notice the smiling faces and good old-fashioned cowboy hat tipping that preceded the usual bands, fire trucks, vintage cars and beauty queens.
"I'm pretty sure it was very exciting for them," Tara Alvear said after the parade.
She was there with her 4-year-old son, Brayden, and mother, Mary Garza, who said in all the parades she'd attended, she'd never seen a grand marshal quite like Saturdays.
"It was nice," she said.
The association's 150 members ranging from 7 to 77 years old have developed noticeable friendships with each other after all of their parties, field trips and and even community service projects together.
"People do a lot of things for the handicapped. They don't know the handicapped can do things for other people. They can and they do," Brooks said.