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A night of sights along Potomac Street

October 31, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Last March, Hagerstown Heat All Stars Competitive Cheer & Dance Teams brought seven trophies and two national championship titles home to Hagerstown from a competition in Ocean City, Md.

But there's something special about strutting their stuff before a hometown crowd at the Alsatia Mummers' Parade.

"We're so excited about the parade this year," says Anna Miles, founder and head coach.

The organization, which includes kids from age 2 - dubbed "Ankle Biters" - through high school seniors, is in its fourth year. Hagerstown Heat All Stars took second place in its first and second years of parade participation. The squad was the first-place drill team in the 2002 event.

Summer Ernst, 15, is in her fourth year with the Hagerstown Heat All Stars. She's involved because it's something fun to do and she enjoys dancing.

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But there is one chilling part of the post-Halloween festivities.

"It's been cold. Really cold," she says, recalling Mummers' Parades of the past.

Seven-year-old Miranda Shipley, a three-year veteran of the parades, agrees with a shiver.

But Lou Scally, grand marshal of the 79th Alsatia Mummers' Parade, may have something to say about the weather.

"We're hoping for clear skies and warm temperatures," Scally says.

That's not the official forecast he'll predict as weatherman for Hagerstown's television station, NBC25, where he's worked for 22 years. If he could be heard, Scally's voice would be familiar to many along the parade route. He is the "morning man" from 5 to 10 a.m. at Hagerstown radio station WJEJ-AM. For 26 years, he's been at the station that has broadcast the parade since the 1930s.

"We didn't want to break with tradition," Scally says.

Scally, 51, grew up in Hagerstown and recalls watching the annual moving spectacle as a kid with his family from a spot near City Hall. In the 1960s, in the days before cell phones, Scally helped with parade communications as a member of the Antietam Radio Association.

"I love to watch it live," he says.

Scally says he thinks this year is the first time the entire length of the parade route will be freshly paved. He recalls a precision roller-skating team having more than a little trouble with potholes, patches and steel plates along Potomac Street.

He also recalls broadcasting the parade on the radio - "quite a difficult thing to do." Somebody's float won't start, and there's a lull - with airtime to fill.

Although Scally has "paraded in many ways over the years," this is the first time he's sat in the grand marshal's seat.

"I'm honored. I just couldn't believe it," he says.

Scally has been an integral part of a lot of things in the community, says James McLeaf II, Alsatia Club president and chairman of the parade. "He's a very community-oriented person."

And community is what the Mummers' Parade is all about.

The parade is the "whole reason" for the Alsatia Club, McLeaf says. About 50 of the organization's 225 members are really active in putting on the extravaganza that's more than three-quarters of a century old. It was started in 1921 because of concern about vandalizing Halloween-season pranksters, according to an Alsatia Club brochure.

Through the years, it has become an opportunity for marching bands, drill teams, scout troops, high school homecoming queens and individual mummers to strut or float their stuff in front of crowds estimated at more than 100,000 people.

In case you're wondering, a mummer is anyone who wears a mask or disguise for fun.

And those homecoming queens?

One of the high school girls will choose a small wrapped box with a golden pendant, and she will be named queen of the 79th Alsatia Mummers' Parade. This year her crowning will take place during the reinstated "Coronation Ball" beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31, at Elks Lodge No. 378 on Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown. The coat and tie dinner and dance is open to the public and will provide an opportunity for the Alsatia Club members to relax and take part in the festivities before they begin their Saturday labors.

On the morning of the parade, the group will hold its final meeting then begin to set up the 3,003 chairs and 2,500 bleacher seats to be sold to spectators for the parade.

Members will line up approximately 180 parade units - marching bands, floats, businesses, community groups and individuals who will become part of the moving celebration.

Scally praises Alsatia Club members, who work year-round to present the annual event.

He calls the Mummers' Parade a slice of Americana.

Hagerstown Heat All Stars' dance routine - done to a "cheer mix" of tunes from the 1980s - will be repeated about 20 times along the course of the nearly 2-mile parade route, Miles says.

The dance steps could be done anywhere, but there's a difference doing them in the long tradition of the Mummers' Parade.

"It's, like, our town," says Hannah McCarty, a 10-year-old Western Heights Middle School fifth-grader.

"We gotta show them what we are."

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