wili-am Posted on 8:05 am


 by David Hinchey
 Chronicle Staff Writer
June 11, 2011
WILLIMANTIC — Grandma getting a bucket of water dumped on her or a baby in a stroller getting soaked by a water cannon will soon become a thing of the past at the annual Fourth of July Willimantic Boom Box Parade.
After the 2010 parade, a number of town and safety officials began to express concern the annual July tradition had gone a little over the top.
New guidelines ironed out between town officials and parade organizers, which were discussed at a Willimantic Service District council meeting this week, aim to maintain the fun, but reign in some activities.
Complaints from the 2010 parade included people who didn’t want to get wet getting sprayed by water from participants in the parade, a child whose foot was run over and a racing vehicle revving its engine while atop a flatbed truck, emitting smoke which generated complaints.
Acting Willimantic Fire Chief Marc Scrivener said the guidelines officials worked on are designed to make the parade safer and more enjoyable.
He said some of the issues in the past were “causing people not to come back to the parade.” 
Scrivener said people spraying water from both sides — parade participants and spectators — had gotten out of control the last few years.
While Scrivener said it would take a couple of years to change the culture, he thought future parades would be a less soaking environment.
People can, however bring bottled water to drink.
The idea for the parade came from the late Kathy Clark in 1986 when a marching band couldn’t be found for the town’s Memorial Day Parade.
Five weeks later, the boom box concept was born, where radio station WILI plays marching band music while spectators and marchers carry boom boxes turned to the station.
The annual tradition has since taken off and the parade has attracted a significant amount of national and local media attention due to its unusual theme.
This year’s parade takes place on July 4 at 11 a.m. from Jillson Square and ends at Memorial Park.
A group of town officials — including police, fire, and recreation officials, along with representatives from WILI-AM — the local radio station — met jointly to come up with the guidelines.
The new guidelines are:
  • No reckless operator behavior
  • No water spraying by participants or spectators
  • No throwing candy from parade units.  However it is permissible to have someone walking with the units and handing out candy, but not throwing candy
  • No motorcycle or bicycle wheelies
  • No revving of engines or burning rubber
Also, there will be 20 parade marshals who will be stationed at various points to ensure compliance with the regulations and take action — including a warning to or possible removal of participants who are out of hand.
With these new regulations, officials hope the parade will be safer.
“I think its going to be more enjoyable,” Scrivener said, adding that people can bring their kids and not be concerned about safety.
One of the past issues was candy, Scrivener said.
Parade participants were instructed to throw the candy far away, over the curb, but would end up dropping it straight down, which made the kids run into the street and into the path of the parade.
Scrivener also reminded people to worry about their pets — primarily dogs — at the parade.
He said since the Fourth of July is typically warm, people should bring plenty of water for their dogs.
Also, Scrivener said people should make sure their pets can handle two hours in the sun and large crowds.
“It’s great, it’s two hours, it’s very enjoyable,” he said of the parade.
WILI Radio personality Wayne Norman, the grand marshal of the parade, facilitated the meetings with the town and said the new regulations would be handed out to parade participants.
“We just thought that it needed to be done,” Norman said.  “I think it’ll make it a better parade.”
Norman said he heard many complaints about the race car burning rubber, which created smoke that participants didn’t appreciate.
He also said it’s difficult to have people spraying water on others when participants are asked to bring radios, noting that water and electronics don’t mix.
He encouranged people to bring radios or boom boxes to the parade and to “crank it up,” so that dead spots along the route can be eliminated.
Windham Mayor Ernest Eldridge, at a Willimantic Service District town council meeting earlier this week, said the guidelines will make the parade safer.
“I don’t see any problems,” Eldridge said of the new guidelines, adding most are common sense measures people should abide by.
Eldridge said parade marshals would also be proactive and ask participants what they’re planning to do in the parade.  “You can usually spot a troublesome group,” he said.