MYRTLE BEACH — There were hillbillies and clowns, sharp-dressed men and pirate bands.
Their costumes and modes of transportation were different, but their message was the same – it’s all about the kids.
The South Atlantic Shrine Association’s 39th annual meeting and fall festival came to a close in Myrtle Beach Saturday morning with a large parade that entertained thousands lining Ocean Boulevard.
It was the culmination of several days of events bringing together SASA members and reinforcing their mission of supporting 22 children’s hospitals across seven states.
The 20,000 Shriners and their families also gave the Myrtle Beach area a good economic push as it moves out of the summer season and into fall.
The Shriners occupied 14 hotels along the Grand Strand and were expected to pour $4.5 million into the local economy, according to a news release.
“Given that we’ve begun to enter what has typically been viewed as the shoulder season, having the Shriners in town is incredibly important for our area,” said Nora Battle, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, via email. “Those are thousands of visitors that wouldn’t be staying and spending money in the Myrtle Beach area otherwise, and we’re certainly excited to have them back again.”
It wasn’t just money that the Shriners provided the area.
As the parade made its way from 12th Avenue South to 29th Avenue South, members of the Shriners Hospital for Children hosted a free orthopedic screening for children from birth to 18 years old in the Chamber parking lot.
“It’s all about the children,” said Kenneth Simmons, a parade participant walking with the Sudan Playboys of St. Pauls, N.C.
Simmons and his friends definitely lived up to their name. Each was decked out in a brightly-colored suit.
And what was Simmons’ attire of choice? He sported a grey zoot suit.
Those watching appeared to be enjoying themselves, whether suffering momentary alarm from a clown car that looked like it was about to flip over – don’t worry, it was rigged to do that – or enjoying the music of the bands.
Four women watching from the end of 16th Avenue South showed their appreciation, shouting, “Looking good, guys.”
Those guys’ mission is to help improve the lives of children. However, if the frivolity and smiles of all those marching in Saturday’s parade is any indication, the group’s other mission seems to be having fun and enjoying each other’s company.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.