Schenectady County

Gazette Holiday Parade gets animated tonight

The 43rd annual Gazette Holiday Parade begins at 5 p.m. today, stepping off from Schenectady County

Nik Sarnacki has his part down cold for tonight’s 43rd annual Gazette Holiday Parade — stone cold.

Street closures

According to Schenectady police, the following roads and streets will be closed (closings will take place between 3 and 4 p.m.):

• State Street from Nott Terrace to Washington Avenue in Scotia

• Western Gateway Bridge, both directions

• Erie Boulevard from State Street to Liberty Street

• Broadway from Liberty Street to Hamilton Street

• Lafayette Street from Liberty Street to State Street

• Clinton Street from Smith Street to State Street

• Church Street from Argyle Street to Liberty Street

• I-890 Washington Avenue exit (4C westbound) and Rice Road exit eastbound

Sarnacki, a 15-year-old sophomore at Mohonasen High School in Rotterdam, will portray cartoon superstar Fred Flintstone on the Ferrara Dance Studio’s rolling salute to the yuletide season. Cartoon characters are the theme, so the audience in downtown Schenectady will see Charlie Brown and his pals, Scooby-Doo and his crew, the miserable Grinch from Dr. Seuss and furious flyers from the Angry Birds video game — and bunches of others.

The holiday show begins at 5 p.m. The parade will step off from Schenectady County Community College, proceed east on State Street through downtown and disband at Lafayette and Franklin streets. Marching musicians, dancers, firefighters, horses and dogs will be among the players in the animated 90-minute celebration.

The cartoon theme fits — the stars of the first holiday parade in 1969 were the Banana Splits, then a Saturday morning sensation with young children. Scooby-Doo, the Great Dane ghost detective from television and films, will be this year’s grand marshal.

“We thought it was fun,” said Gail Kehn, director of government and community relations for the Chamber of Schenectady County, which is promoting the parade. “That’s always our first priority. And second of all, it’s a theme that offers a wide array of choices for people who are developing floats.”

Seven prizes will be awarded for top spectacles.

Sarnacki and his Flintstone friends are glad to get into character as members of television’s modern Stone Age family, who first entertained kids and their parents in 1960. Sarnacki will wear a long, orange gown with black spots and a blue tie — Fred’s usual wardrobe. “Who doesn’t like to dress up in costume?” asked Sarnacki, who will also wear a black, bushy wig and yell the familiar “Yabba-dabba-doo!”

Renee Brino, 19, of Scotia, will wear black and pink and a bright orange wig as Pebbles, whom Flintstones faithful know as the cute daughter of Fred and Wilma. Joella Giello, 43, of Schenectady, will wear brown and yellow as Fred’s chum Barney Rubble, and Courtney Sielaff, 22, of Cobleskill, will wear blue and bones as Betty Rubble. All four are dancers in the Ferrara studio.

“I love the Flintstones; I like the older cartoons,” said Terri Ferrara, who runs the Rotterdam dance studio with her sister Lynn. “I like the music.”

Fred and the gang, which will also include Rotterdam’s Kyliene DiStefano as Bamm-Bamm and Lauren Weber of Schoharie as Wilma, will walk alongside the float with bunches of Ferrara dancers.

“I love performing in front of people,” said Brino, who works at Ellis Hospital. “I love making the kids laugh and smile.”

Giello, who has been part of the Ferrara parade float for the past 20 years, believes the participation keeps her young at heart.

“I like to volunteer my time,” she said. “I enjoy being with the kids.”

Giello’s not crazy about all of her costume components, though: The Fred and Barney outfits come with oversized plastic feet.

“They’re hard to walk in,” she said. “I’m thinking about getting flip-flops [for inside]; they may be easier to walk in than sneakers.”

Dino, the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur, will stay on the float in the family car. He is not expected to poke his head through the canvas roof.

The Brown School in Schenectady is taking a more modern approach. Kids from the Corlaer Avenue school will have a float based around Charlie Brown and the cast of the “Peanuts” comic strip. Patty Vitale, head of school at Brown, said the float is the school’s second parade entry. It’s a way for the school and its 185 students to remain active members of the community.

“We just had a great time last year,” Vitale said.

She said it’s funny that “Peanuts” was chosen because the school is always trying to push peanut awareness — some students are allergic to the nuts. Regardless of peanut preference, kids have helped design artwork for the float. Vitale said the project teaches teamwork.

Kids playing main roles are taking their jobs seriously.

Caroline Versaci will play Lucy, Charlie Brown’s sometime adviser and sometime antagonist. “She has a bad side and a good side,” said Versaci, 10, a fifth-grader who lives in Schenectady. “She’s tough when she needs to be … it’s just fun to be a character that’s so popular.”

Matthew Biega, 11, of Rotterdam has something in common with Charlie Brown: Both like sports. “He’s usually the underdog and he kind of somehow makes everything work,” said Biega, a sixth-grader.

Cole Sawyer, 10, is Pig-Pen. His long, brown costume shirt is decorated with brown and white chunks of cotton fluff. “He’s not actually sloppy,” said Sawyer, a fifth-grader from Amsterdam. “It’s the way he walks.”

Michael Ford, 10, of Charlton, will play Linus, Charlie’s best friend. He might have the best part because he’ll carry the character’s traditional blanket.

“I’m going to hug it when I get cold,” the fifth-grader said, mindful of the cool late autumn night ahead.

The Angry Birds are new to the parade. They’re new to pop culture, too. Based on a video game introduced in 2009, the birds are at war with egg-stealing pigs.

Crew personnel at Mohawk Ambulance will become part of the aviary tonight. Mohawk hasn’t had a float in the parade for the past 20 years; the emergency transport group has been rolling ambulances in recent celebrations.

“We were kicking ideas around, and people liked the idea of Angry Birds,” said Carol Brandt, Mohawk’s director of professional development. “It’s something different, it’s contemporary and we have so many young folks working for us. It kind of took off from there.”

Brandt said the cartoon birds are not the types she remembers from Saturday morning television. They are violent — kind of like other characters from the 1960s and ’70s.

“If you think back to the Road Runner dropping anvils on Wile E. Coyote … ” Brandt said. “But we’re trying to put a happy spin on it. They’re going to be celebrating the holidays.”

Brian Snell, 37, of Scotia, Mohawk’s director of operations, and emergency medical technician Kyle Nelson, 22, of Pattersonville, will play bird and pig, respectively. “Guess we’ll play it as it goes,” Snell said of expected banter between the two camps. “We’ll try to have some fun with it, make it exciting for everybody.”

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