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Fourth of July Parade Committee defends event cancellation

July 9, 2014 | Chris Maza

Normally lined with local residents as marching units pass by, Mapleshade Avenue was empty at 11:30 a.m. on July 4 after the Parade Committee elected to cancel the event due to impending inclement weather.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW – It was a historic Fourth of July for the town’s parade.

For the first time in more than 30 years, the parade, which draws marching units from throughout the Northeast, was cancelled and not rescheduled.

Fourth of July Parade Committee Co-Chair Carl Ohlin stressed that it was not a decision that was taken lightly.

“It was a very had decision to make,” he said. “Now we have the benefit of hindsight, but given the information we had at the time, I think we made the best decision we could possibly make.”

The announcement of the parade’s cancellation was made via the town’s Facebook page at 3:46 p.m. on July 3, citing impending inclement weather.

The parade, which steps off at East Longmeadow High School and follows a route from Maple Street to North Main Street to Mapleshade Avenue and finishes down Elm Street, was slated to begin at 10 a.m. Steady rain, which resulted in approximately a half an inch of precipitation for the area, according to the National Weather Service, did not begin to fall until after noon

“Every weather station had a forecast of 90 to 100 percent chance of rain, though there wasn’t a lot of information on hour by hour,” Ohlin said. “We had to make a decision.”

While many supported the decision on social media, others questioned why the parade could not have been moved to Saturday, which featured some gusty winds, but clear skies and temperatures in the 80s.

Parade Committee Co-Chair Ryan Quimby defended the decision to cancel, explaining that he, Ohlin and Selectman Paul Federici discussed several options, including rescheduling, on July 3.

Ultimately, he said, the decision to cancel, while least palatable, was the one that made the most sense.

“Carl’s been on the committee for 30 years and he said it’s very unsuccessful to reschedule,” Quimby said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. All of the police have to refill their schedules and one of the biggest things [Carl] talked about was the impact it would have on local businesses on the route. And obviously with church on Sundays, [the parade] would have an impact on that as well.”

Ohlin explained in his tenure as a marshal and member of the committee, the parade was never cancelled, but prior to his time, the parade had only been rescheduled to a different day once and in the modern era, it would be even harder to pull it off.

“One year it was on a Saturday, but it was in the 70s, a time when many of the businesses were not open on Sundays,”?he said. “The committee worked it out with a lot of the groups and their cooperation allowed the opportunity to move the parade [to Sunday].”

In addition to police scheduling issues and the potential negative impact to businesses, there were time constraints related to the contractual agreements with the marching units.

“In all of the contracts with the bands, if we do not give them 12 hours notice, then we have to pay them. That comes out to about $16,000,” he said. “If we had waited until Friday morning and it was still bad and we had to cancel it, it would have cost us $16,000 versus cancelling it on Thursday.”

The Parade Committee received an appropriation of $17,500 at the Annual Town Meeting.

Ohlin added that demand for bands and other marching units also makes it extremely difficult to reschedule.

“We have to contact bands and sign contracts with them very early because there is a lot of competition for them,” he said. “A band or a group might have a commitment to be somewhere else the next day, especially since it’s a weekend.”      

Quimby said that while the Parade Committee was in a transitional period in which several members, including Ohlin, are retiring and Quimby is taking over,  he did not expect the cancelation to have an effect on the level of volunteerism for next year’s parade.

“I don’t think it will impact the ability to get more volunteers,” he said. “We could always use more people because more hands makes for easier work, especially with a lot of the people who are transitioning are transitioning out.”

Ohlin thanked the community for its continued support of the parade, especially those who worked as part of this year’s planning committee and those who have been sponsors or business partners over the years.

“I’m sure that support for this parade will continue to be strong, regardless of what happened this year,” he said.

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