Tampa’s gasparilla traditions increases pirate population

Thousands lined Bayshore Blvd. to get a glimpse of pirate themed floats.

If you were to ask a Tampa native what the Gasparilla Pirate Festival was, they may say an event full of tradition, pride, excitement and debauchery. If you asked a newcomer what Gasparilla was, they may compare it to an outtake of a “Pirates of the Caribbean film.” Both would be right.

The annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival has been celebrated in Tampa Bay since 1904, and more than 100 years later, it is still one of the most anticipated events of the year. Located along Bayshore Blvd., the festival attracts around 300,000 attendees. There is one common theme among the crowd, regardless of age. Pirates. Almost everyone is dressed as pirates. For the Gasparilla veterans, this is much more than a hyped up costume party, it’s a lifestyle.

“I was born on Gasparilla in 1977, and the pirates came to the hospital and actually held me,” said Ryan Euhus, an avid Gasparilla goer dressed head to toe in elaborate pirate garb. “I’m my own pirate crew.”

Gasparilla is a time for Tampa residents to forget about their stresses, bond with their family members and actually party like it’s 1821. Where there is a horde of pirates, there must be a fleet of ships as well. That’s where the floats come in, with the parade lasting around 100 organizations, businesses or krewes. Pirate krewes, that is.


Ryan Euhus, a local artist, and friend Heather Hughes pose for their favorite Tampa tradition.
Ryan Euhus, a local artist, and friend Heather Hughes pose for their favorite Tampa tradition.

“I’m 37 and have been to Gasparilla every year since I was 4. The only year I missed was when I was pregnant,” said Heather Hughes, an excited crowd member.

Not everyone in attendance had experienced Gasparilla before. Most newcomers are college students who are originally from another city or state. They’re intrigued by the idea of a celebration revolved around dressing like pirates, drinking copious amounts of rum and removing garments of clothing for plastic beads.

“It’s my first time. It’s a little hectic but it’s a lot of fun so far,” said Jillian Olsen, a junior and resident assistant at the University of South Florida. “I’m expecting it to be elaborate and I want to get a lot of beads.”

Hectic doesn’t even begin to explain the crowd so large and lively, cell phone service literally goes down for hours. Good luck finding your Uber in a sea of drunken scallywags waving plastic swords. Even so, Tampa residents start counting down the days until next year’s celebration.

“It’s a time to have fun, and be proud of your city,” said Hughes. “It’s definitely something to experience.”


St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Raises Money Via Delta Sorority

Delta Delta Delta is a sorority at the University of South Florida. They hosted the annual Delta House of Pancakes philanthropy event on Friday, stacking piles of pancakes and raising thousands of dollars for sick children fighting cancer and their families.

Each semester, the USF Greek Life community presents charity events that benefit over 49  organizations. Tri Delta’s national philanthropy is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which provides housing, food and medical treatment for any child diagnosed with cancer, regardless whether their family can afford it.

Most of these children are terminal. Once a year, Tri Delta hosts Delta House of Pancakes, which costs attendees $5 for pre-sale tickets and $7 at the door. The ticket allows them unlimited pancakes and other breakfast items.

Walking into the Tri Delta chapter room, guests are overwhelmed with the aroma of maple syrup, crackling bacon and most importantly, pounds upon pounds of golden pancakes.  Tables and chairs are lined up with eager college students ready to devour something better than dining hall food.

This year, the planning and work paid off, raising over $17,000 for St. Jude’s.  For the chapter president, Mackenzie Reyes, the experience is much more than simply writing a check.

“Every patient we meet, every success story we hear and every time the survival rate improves is possible because of the millions of dollars raised and the awareness generated by Tri Delta members for the past 15 years,” Reyes said.

Reyes, along with 45 other members of Tri Delta, recently visited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The sorority sisters were given the opportunity to see exactly where their contributions go and the brave children they affect.

St. Jude’s treats newborns up to 21-year-olds, for brain tumors, leukemia, lymphoma, infectious diseases, blood disorders, sickle cell disease and solid tumors. Treatment for these diseases is rough, expensive and sometimes hard to watch. For the Tri Delta’s, meeting these sick children face to face made all the difference.

“I had a multitude of the most highly trained doctors in America and the strongest children of our future generation coming up to me and thanking me for all that we do as sorority women,” Reyes said. “We help their families through some of the darkest times of their lives.”

Delta House of Pancakes attracted a crowd of over 400 people to the Tri Delta house in USF Greek Village, not including the five Tampa Bay businesses that sponsored the event. The attendance and sponsorship’s played a big role in helping Tri Delta reach a monetary goal and spread awareness.

“Our goal is to raise $60 million in 10 years, after recently beating our $15 million in 5 years goal,” Lexi Kalantzis said, a Tri Delta member of two years.

Tri Delta holds the largest single commitment by a St. Jude partner, having had a short-term housing facility named after their organization. The housing facility, located in Memphis, acts as a residence for cancer-fighting adolescents and their families for up to a week.

It is free of charge because of donations from Tri Delta, so the families can focus on saving their child’s life and lessening the pain that comes with battling such a disease. 

“Who wouldn’t want to play a direct role in raising money for St. Jude’s?” Teagan Fiore said , the Tri Delta philanthropy chair who planned the event.

With the help of the other 48 Greek organizations on campus and the community, Tri Delta members such as Reyes, Kalantzis and Fiore are confident a major impact can be made for participating charities, and countless young lives can be spared.

“We are a part of something much larger than ourselves,” Reyes said.