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Bud Billiken Parade marches on without South Shore Drill Team

Kids watched the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

The Bud Billiken Parade marched onward Saturday without one of its biggest draws — the South Shore Drill Team.

But the 87th edition of the annual Bronzeville back-to-school parade still had its biggest attraction — tradition.

“It’s like one big family reunion,” said Barrington Reynolds, 50, who got there at 4:30 a.m. to stake out a choice location for his tent on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at East 43rd Street — a spot his family has claimed for the last 10 Billiken parades.

“You have your spot,” Reynolds said. “Then, you see people here you haven’t seen in 10, 15 years. People are going to show up.”

The street was lined with parade-watchers, barbecue grills and vendors toting inflatable dolls, though some in attendance doubted the parade reached the estimated crowd of 1 million spectators. Some of that had to do with the potential for rain in early forecasts for Saturday, but the loss of South Shore Drill Team — and the hundreds of South Shore alumni, relatives and other supporters — also might have hurt.

The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

“They were my favorite ones to watch,” said 28-year-old Marpeesa Williams, who brought her 5-year-old son to the parade for the first time and was surprised she was able to get a seat along King Drive despite arriving just half an hour before the parade started. “I was surprised I was able to get that close. The crowd seems much smaller.”

The parade likely set a speed record for a modern Bud Billiken affairs, clocking in at about just three hours, said Kristal Davis, spokeswoman for organizer Chicago Defender Charities. The not-for-profit group had tried to shorten the duration of the parade, which in some years has tangled traffic in Bronzeville for seven hours or more, Davis said. But the group might have overshot the mark, Davis said.

A Dance Force dancer keeps hydrated during Saturday’s Bud Billiken Parade. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
A Dance Force dancer keeps hydrated during Saturday’s Bud Billiken Parade. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

“I think people were shocked at how fast the parade went this year,” Davis said. “The last group crossed the line around noon. I know people expect to spend the day at Bud Billiken, so there were still people out barbecuing.

“I think we’re going to try to find a happy medium for next year.”

The parade started at 9 a.m. — an hour earlier than in past years. Two years ago, Chicago Defender Charities instituted a limit of 100 marchers per group, though that was rarely enforced.

Davis said the 100-marcher cap prompted the South Shore Drill Team to drop out in the past week because the restriction meant it couldn’t bring its full complement of nearly 200 members.

While the group — and parade organizers — had ignored the 100-marcher limit the last two years, the South Shore Drill Team decided to hold a separate, solo parade for a few blocks down South Chicago Avenue in Grand Crossing that began about an hour after the Billiken Parade.

The United States Air Force Honor Guard marches in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The United States Air Force Honor Guard marches in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

Denise Wilson wasn’t bothered by the controversy. Wilson, 59, sat with a few dozen relatives to watch. She grew up a few blocks from the parade route and said she has been to more than 50 Billiken parades, which she said is a rite of summer for the South Side African-American community.

Michael Turnbull (center) watches the Bud Billiken Parade march south down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive with Jacelyn Turnbull (left) and Sarai Howell on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Michael Turnbull (center) watches the Bud Billiken Parade march south down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive with Jacelyn Turnbull (left) and Sarai Howell on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

“This is the back-to-school parade,” Wilson said. “When I was a kid, you knew there was the parade, and then you knew summer was over and it was time to go back to school.”

Mary Frazier cooks chicken on the parade route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Mary Frazier cooks chicken on the parade route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

“If a group shows up with more than 100, we don’t turn kids away,” Davis said. “The Golden Knights Drill Team was here, and they looked like they had more than South Shore did last year. I think we will be able to work something out for next year.”

The Bud Billiken Parade marches south down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Bud Billiken Parade marches south down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

The Golden Knights Drill Team marches in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Golden Knights Drill Team marches in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

Mathew Carter marches in the Bud Billiken Parade. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Mathew Carter marches in the Bud Billiken Parade. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

Crowds line the parade march route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Crowds line the parade march route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

The Dance Force dancers make their way along the parade route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Dance Force dancers make their way along the parade route. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

Parade-goers watch the Bud Billiken Parade. Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
Parade-goers watch the Bud Billiken Parade. Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

The Bud Billiken Parade marches south down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Bud Billiken Parade marches south down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times

The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times
The Chi-Town Cheerleaders march in the Bud Billiken Parade on Saturday. | Lou Foglia / Sun-Times