TAMPA — The annual Gasparilla festivities have transformed through the years into a party rivaling New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, but at least one aspect of Tampa’s oldest tradition has remained largely unchanged.
The Gasparilla Royal Court, made up of king and queen Gasparilla and their maids and courtiers, celebrates its centennial this year. Thirty-three queens rode in their own float behind the 2014 royal court in Saturday’s parade.
“We always want to be respectful of our past kings and queens who have done so much to further our tradition,” said James Warren III, a past king and former captain of the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. “We don’t want to forget them.”
The court is made up of members and relatives of members of Ye Mystic Krewe, the group that started the Gasparilla tradition in 1904. There was no royal court — and no Gasparilla — during some years of war, Warren said.
King Gasparilla is an honorary title for a longtime, active member of the krewe, Warren said. The king has an ex-officio seat on the krewe’s board of directors and helps plan the annual coronation ball. Queen Gasparilla is the daughter of one of the krewe members, who is nominated for the position by her father and elected by the rest of the krewe.
The queen must have completed college recently and must submit an application and resume, said Rosemary Williams Anderson, who was Queen Gasparilla in 2007. Her grandfather was a king, and two of her aunts were queens.
“For me, it was an opportunity to feel that family connection and also get involved in the community,” Anderson said. “It really makes me feel a part of the city’s tradition, and it’s something I can tell my kids about someday.”
If her son, who is almost 2 years old, joins the krewe someday he will be a fourth-generation pirate, Anderson said. He loved marching in his first Gasparilla Children’s Parade this year.
Each court puts on events for the community and the krewe throughout the year of their term. There are balls and philanthropic events to attend. The king and queen each throw a party, and court members attend coronations and functions thrown by other local krewes.
Gasparilla also always has been a family affair for Anne Butler, who was queen in 1989. Her brother is a past king, and her husband is a Ye Mystic Krewe pirate.
“It’s a fun thing to do to be back in the parade again” Butler said. “It’s not something the wives get to do that much.”
This year’s queen, Colleen Pizzo, said being a member of the court is always a great experience, but this year’s Gasparilla was different.
“It’s just such a tradition,” Pizzo said. “It’s special to be queen, but then I found I was the 100th, and it made it all the more special.”
Being invited back to ride in the parade for the centennial year was an honor, Anderson said.
“It’s definitely a historic milestone,” she said. “It really speaks highly of the leadership within the krewe, the fact that we’ve been able to keep this tradition for so many years.”