River Rat parade fun for whole family

  • The Athol-Mahar Youth Sports float. DEBORRAH PORTER/athol daily news

  • Subway Man Deborrah Porter

  • Sir Roars A Lot of the Athol Lions Club Deborrah Porter

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2018 10:29:38 PM
Modified: 4/15/2018 10:29:39 PM

ATHOL — All it took was a puffy blue dolphin to make one little boy’s day.

Five-year-old Ethan hugged his giant balloon and jumped up and down eager for the parade to begin, a smile stretched wide under rosy cheeks.

His sister, 13-year-old Zoey, sweetly made it known that they were standing in the “family location” — a particular spot on Main Street — where everyone gathers each year to watch the River Rat parade.

Their grandmother, Nancy, explained, “I brought my girls here when they were babies, and now they bring their own children.”

The spot is also known to others in the family. Cousins, aunts, uncles and friends coming in from out of town know exactly where to go to find them. It’s a reunion of sorts, with hugs and lively conversation all around.

Other families staked out spots along the parade route, crowded with hundreds of people encouraged by the sunny skies and mild temperature.

Loud cheers went up, signaling the start of the festivities as the first of the Big Cheese 5K road race runners rounded the corner by the YMCA. After the last of the 480 5K runners and walkers passed, the “blip, blip” of the lead Athol Police cruiser could be heard, then seen as it rolled into view, blue lights flashing. It was followed by the Pequoig Detachment 1168 Marine Corps League color guard, manned by local veterans. The American flag waved among the American Legion Post 650, U.S. Marine Corps and POW/MIA flags.

Parade Marshal Athol Police Lt. Kevin Heath was chauffeured in a bright red convertible from Salvadore Chevrolet Group. Heath, honored for having led the parade for many years, returned waves and smiles from the crowd.

Local and state dignitaries came next, walking to cheers from the sidelines. A multitude of sounds, color and candy then followed. A blur of colorful floats scattered throughout the divisions included one carrying oversized flowers and girls in fancy dresses heralding the upcoming Father-Daughter Dance sponsored by the Athol-Royalston Education Foundation.

The Athol Lions Club, which has put on the River Rat Race for the last 26 years under the direction of Lion Dave Flint, arrived with a flatbed truck depicting a canoe scene, and in a sea of marchers in trademark yellow with their Lion Sir Roars A Lot and the River Rat mascots helping club officers hand out candy to youngsters.

The air was filled with lively music provided by the Athol Red Raiders Marching Band, the Orange Community Band and the Athol-Royalston Middle School, all drawing appreciative cheers and applause from the large crowd.

Floats included the Athol-Orange Baptist Church’s Rat Race theme, the North Quabbin Community Coalition and Recovery Center, which featured a wave of pink and purple balloons and participants promoting Project Purple. Walkers bearing signs “Think Purple” and “Recovery-Living Proof” smiled as the crowd applauded and shouted words of encouragement.

Banner bearers led groups like the Athol Daily News, whose employees handed out hundreds of reusable tote bags, clips and candy to spectators, the Athol Senior Center and Council on Aging, United Arc-GAAFSN and North Quabbin Patch. The Cub Scouts, Frontier Girls troops and the Awana Club were well represented, as was the Millers River Watershed (by a large fish flag) and Camp Wiyaka.

Animals were a clear favorite among the little ones, triggering squeals of delight as they rolled into view. The Phillipston Animal Hospital participated, Athol Animal Control float featured a horse, and Hunt’s Farm provided a rolling zoo of sorts, with the flatbed featuring chickens, cows and ducks to promote the Orange Agricultural Commission.

Members of the Northeast Houndsmen slowly made their way down the street, pausing to allow children to marvel over their bloodhounds.

Starr Cummings drove the unit carrying the famed Budweiser Horse statue from Girardi Distributors, which has supported the race for 55 years.

The grandest float was hauled by Griff’s Rubbish Removal, a supporter of the River Rat Race for more than 20 years. Adorned with a red, white and blue balloon arch, it promoted Athol Mahar Youth Sports, with members of the smiling cheer squads and football teams dressed in uniforms waving to the masses.

Subway joined the fun, its adult-sized sandwich mascot skipping along as children waved from the bed of a pickup truck brightly decorated with yellow green and white balloons and set with a table laden with a table-sized sandwich and cups from Subway.

Motorheads and bikers were not disappointed with the variety of classic cars. Race cars were pulled on flatbeds by Nutter Racing and Wright’s Welding’s Race Team; Doe Valley Farm entered a Model A Ford; and packs of motorcyclists from the Athol-Orange Eagles Club and the Rolling Thunder V-1, bearing the American flag and those of other veterans groups on their motorcycles and trikes, rumbling down the street.

A few local businesses were represented — The Athol Credit Union, The Boiler Bar & Grill float depicted a scene from the restaurant, there were vehicles from the A & E Property Management, a truck and walkers for North Central Mass. Trash, Orange Chrysler Dodge Jeep and RAM, the Bear Country 95.3 car, Dale’s Auto Body and walkers for the newly opened 110 Grill handing out coupons.

Getting in on the action were Civil War re-enactors, members of Liberty Greys 7th Tennessee Co. D, and a large convoy of armored jeeps and military trucks promoting the American History Expo coming up at the Orange Municipal Airport in May, and World War II Capt. Vincent J. “Bill” Purple, who piloted a B-17 during the war, chauffeured in a 1941 Packard by Bill Kessler.

And as always, the Athol Fire Department led a variety of gleaming fire apparatus from surrounding towns to conclude the parade.

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