Often considered the harbinger of spring in the Lowcountry, the 38th Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade will step off at 3 p.m. March 12 on Pope Ave., marking its 38th year of fun and festivities.
The parade is the highlight of the newly established IrishFest weekend, which begins the previous evening with a concert of Irish music.
On March 11, at 4 p.m. the second annual Irish Concert will be held at Lowcountry Celebration Park, featuring The Fenian Sons and Boston Police Gaelic Column Pipe & Drum.
This event is free and open to the public. Food trucks will be onsite, and beverages will be available for sale. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to sit and enjoy the music.
The parade is expected to draw upwards of 30,000 spectators and participants of all ages from around the region.
This year’s Grand Marshal is an international sports phenom who now lives on Hilton Head Island. But non-sports fans are likely to know him more for his Adidas sneakers than for his remarkable career.
Stan Smith, ranked among the legends of tennis, received his official sash in a ceremony Feb. 15 at Reilley’s Grill & Bar on the island’s south end, long known as parade headquarters.
As Grand Marshal, Smith will ride near the front of the parade. Following behind him will be past Grand Marshals and other dignitaries, including elected officials from the town and state.
Smith is from Pasadena, California, and moved to the island in 1971 to serve as the touring tennis professional for Charles Fraser’s Sea Pines Company. He has won the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and the Davis Cup, among his career 37 singles championships and 53 in doubles. He has been a No. 1 tennis player in the U.S., and No. 1 in the world, and was named to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
He retired from tennis in 1985 and stayed here on the island. He and Margie, his wife of 48 years, raised their four children here. Though he has traveled the world, he said, “Every time I come across the bridge after traveling, I breathe in that salt air and know I’m home.”
In 2002, Smith opened Smith Stearns Tennis Academy with fellow tennis standout with B.J. Stearns. Their programs coach and prepare motivated young athletes for a career in tennis.
Smith’s local volunteer efforts include the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head, including service as chair of the capital campaign to build the Gumtree Road facility 30 years ago. He was a trustee for the Heritage Classic Foundation, serving for a time as chair of the scholarship committee. He has long been a supporter of Hilton Head Volunteers in Medicine and of the Children’s Center.
Adidas named a green and white tennis shoe for Smith in 1973. Since then, the company recently announced, more than 100 million pairs have been sold. “I think I have 120 or so pairs in my closet,” Smith said. He wore a green pair to the sashing ceremony.
Scheduled to march in the parade are six pipe and drum bands, including Boston Police, Charleston and U.S. Border Patrol. In addition, the U.S. Navy Band will march in our parade for the first time, and an Irish rock band from Boston, The Fenian Sons, will return for the second year. Several area high school bands and performance troupes will participate as well – for a total of 13 confirmed bands.
Local businesses, schools and nonprofits will be represented with colorful floats, cars, trucks, boats and other vehicles, along with local and state dignitaries.
Attendees line both sides of the one-mile route down Pope Avenue from the Coligny area to the USCB campus on Office Park Drive. Those seeking a place to park are encouraged to look for business areas that are closed on Sundays, such as banks and office parks.
Volunteers are still needed for various duties, including owners of convertibles to drive dignitaries down the route.
For more information about all events, including how to enter a business, group or nonprofit in the parade, visit hiltonheadireland.org. To volunteer, click on the Volunteer tab at the top of the page.