Junior Orange Bowl Parade is a family tradition for Slesnick siblings
There’s a brother-sister duo who are mighty glad the Junior Orange Bowl International Youth Sports Festival is celebrating its 64th season with its famed parade hitting downtown Coral Gables on Sunday, Dec. 30.
That’s the payoff for Junior Orange Bowl Committee President Don Slesnick III and JOB Parade Chair Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, who will enjoy the results of their committee’s work to produce one of the City Beautiful’s most important events, which draws thousands of spectators to Coral Gables.
Because the Slesnick family has a long history of involvement in the city, let alone the Junior Orange Bowl, the day will be full of memories, too.
“My brother and I were usually in the parade, riding on a float and waving to the crowds,” says Kathleen. “It was the kind of exhilarating experience you never forget.”
The pair’s father is former Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick II, who served as president of the Junior Orange Bowl in 1986-1987. Their mother, Jeannett Slesnick, well-known Realtor and community volunteer, also served as president of the Junior Orange Bowl in 1989-1990.
Caught up in this major event as a youth, Don III, 36, says it was natural to seek ways to be involved after returning to Miami after college. He began working on the parade and 11 years later became president of the Junior Orange Bowl Committee.
Kathleen, 40, says she began as float judge and band judge coordinator seven years ago because she had been in the Coral Gables High School Marching Band. Other family members are involved, including Don III’s wife Cecilia Dubon Slesnick, membership chair of the Junior Orange Bowl Committee.
The Junior Orange Bowl has its roots in Coral Gables’ first Celebration of Youth in 1948; a parade opened the first Junior Orange Bowl Youth Festival, a series of sporting events that came to include golf, soccer, tennis and swimming in later years. Professional athletes such as Tiger Woods took part in these events as kids.
In 1958, the first Junior Orange Bowl Queen was selected; a year later, organizers decided they needed a group to make decisions and add new ideas, and the Junior Orange Bowl Committee was born.
Today, Don and Kathleen say it’s especially rewarding to have a sibling as co-leader of such an affair.
“We collaborate very well together,” Kathleen says. “It’s easy to bounce different ideas off him, mostly because he’s so accessible to me!”
Adds Don: “It’s easy to stay motivated. The event continues to grow, and that challenges us to improve on last year’s parade.”
Both say they want to expand the festival, add more crowd-pleasers and reach out to the constantly changing community.
“To do that, we have to raise a lot of money through sponsorships, and sponsors want to see an event that draws big crowds and has brand recognition,” Kathleen explains. “So it’s a balance that has to be gained, and I think we’re doing the things we need to do to reach that goal.”
The 64th Junior Orange Bowl Parade theme is “Sailing to New Adventures,” which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s arrival Florida.
Led this year by grand marshal Ron Magill of Zoo Miami, the parade begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 30, by heading south on Ponce de Leon Boulevard starting at Alhambra Circle. The parade will turn west on Miracle Mile and finish in front of the grandstand seating area on Biltmore Way, right in front of Coral Gables City Hall.
Attendance is free; a limited number of grandstand tickets can be purchased in advance for those preferring premium seats. For more information, call 305-662-1210 or visit www.jrorangebowl.org.
Barbara Acevedo is a senior at the University of Miami with a major in economics and a minor in public relations.