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Beloved Parade of Champions Returns to Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA (KPIX) -- The city of Santa Clara revived a 50-year tradition Saturday by bringing back its "Parade of Champions," a community event that celebrates the sheer fun of having a community event.

Santa Clara's Parade of Champions began as a welcome-home to the troops in 1945. It was so much fun that it continued as a tradition for 50 years but it ended in 1995 and Ana Vargas-Smith, president of the parade foundation, doesn't know why.

"I'd left Santa Clara and, when I came back, I said 'where did the parade go?'" Vargas-Smith said. "So we got a few people, my community -- about six of us -- and we brought it back!"

Tony Cardoso who now lives in Tracy remembers coming to the parade as a young child with his grandmother.

"It's something that was in my head as a kid, you know?" he said. "We came every year for many years, you know?"

Actually the parade returned in 2019 but got kicked to the curb last year because of the pandemic. Saturday, it was back in force -- 85 entries, more than 2,000 participants in all. There were marching bands, classic cars, bagpipers, school children and people in costumes. After a year in lockdown, it was just what the doctor ordered.

"We need to see each other's laughter, each other's face," said Anna Parada as she waved at the marchers from the sidewalk. "After all these masks, we need to see our smiles."

Unlike other parades that celebrate specific holidays or groups of people, the Parade of Champions is a bit hard to define. The Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps were World Champions in 2018 but most of Saturday's entries were just people who wanted to strut their stuff in the middle of the street.

"We're highlighting everything, you know? It's an eclectic mix but that's just the fun of it," said parade board member Jodi Muirhead.

This year's parade was said to honor the frontline health care workers but they were hard to find among the marchers. The grand marshall was Krazy George, whose zany energy is always a shot in the arm for anyone who might be feeling down.

"It interconnects everybody around this whole community!" he said, beating his drum. "We're out. We're past the virus -- we're getting past it -- and it's been fun! This parade is great! Santa Clara's great!"

Perhaps he's right. The real guest of honor was the community itself. After a year of cancellation and isolation, of masks and mandates, just about anyone who survived can consider themselves a bit of a champion.

"It's just one of those things that you do," said longtime parade-goer Mary Cardoso. "And everybody just says, 'Oh, we have to go to the Parade of Champions! It's a parade of champions, that's where all the champions come!'"

The parade lasted almost two hours but the event continued into the early evening with a Farmers Market, community booths, dining and salsa dancing in the town square.

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