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Pirate fun, frolic and fireworks fiesta celebrates 75 years - Corpus Christi Caller Times

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Pirate fun, frolic and fireworks fiesta celebrates 75 years - Corpus Christi Caller Times
Apr 9th 2012, 07:02

CORPUS CHRISTI — It's all hands on deck as the Corpus Christi bayfront sparkles — not with pirates' booty — but a bounty of lights and excitement for Buc Days' 75th year.

Downtown starts smoking Friday, and it isn't wafting from galleons' cannon fire, but dozens of cook-off barbecuers' smokers.

Thundering hooves will reverberate through the weekend into Rodeo Week. It begins Friday with the roping showdown at the Robstown fairgrounds, before a trail ride Saturday to American Bank Center for the festival's free rodeo.

In 1938 a renewed interest in pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew of cutthroats invading Corpus Christi Bay in 1821 — and possibly stashing $500,000 in gold along the coast — inspired a revamped citywide festival dubbed Buccaneer Days. The nonprofit Buccaneer Commission was launched with a swashbuckling switch into a pirates theme, from the city's former festival Splash Days, which began in 1917 featuring bathing beauties and aquatic activities.

The initial three-day Bucanneer Days took on a life of its own and has grown to a three-week event, as its name was honed to Buc Days. Organizers believe the festival's many changing events, focused on the city's unique pirate history, has contributed to its longevity.

Through the 1950s tradition required hundreds of pirates — not real ones, of course — to storm City Hall to warn the mayor of impending danger. A call was issued for young men 18 and older willing to grow beards, put a patch over one eye, don a pirate hat and act like scalawags waving a sword.

It quickly was decided the mayor, or a less weary pro tem, should meet bay waters in a mock walk-the-plank exhibition beneath the skull and crossbones as twilight set. Then fireworks spewed skyward from a barge to announce the festival's arrival.

This year Mayor Pro-Tem David Loeb will take the plunge at 6 p.m. April 26, Buc Days' opening night. That night only, the accompanying Stripes Carnival offers gate entry and rides priced at a buck.

Festival proceeds have been funneled into education since 1996, when the Bucanneer Commission began providing scholarships for area students.

This year's Buc Days Reliant Energy Scholarship Dinner fundraiser features Bill Greehey, chairman of the board of NuStar Energy, as keynote speaker. There are 49 student recipients this year, a record number. Of those, 20 girls and nine boys were provided a three-week Dale Carnegie course.

"The top six are also getting an intern opportunity to get a taste of the precollege work world," said Barry Box, president of the commission. "It's an invaluable experience for them."

They are part of the 277 students since 1996 who have shared $711,400 in scholarship funds, Box said.

This year's scholarships are being awarded to 15 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi students, two at Del Mar College, and 14 students at various universities nationwide.

More than 20,000 volunteers the past seven decades have made Buc Days a top community event by bending with the times, Box said.

"It's the community working for the community," he said. "That is the heart and soul of what we do to add some value to safe, fun events."

This year Buc Days TOYOTA Illuminated Night Parade sets sail at 7 p.m. May 5.

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Schedule of events

Rodeo Week

Friday-Saturday: Buc Days Coors Light Kick-Off Cook-Off (Shoreline Boulevard at Kinney Street)

Friday-Sunday: Buc Days Ropin' Showdown — Richard M. Borchard Fairgrounds, Robstown

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday: Mutton Bustin' Registration (Shoreline Boulevard at Kinney St.)

Saturday: Buc Days Trail Ride, from fairgrounds reaching Shoreline Boulevard about 4:30 p.m.

11 a.m. April 17: Slack — Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling and Team Roping; Free

11 a.m. April 18: Slack — Barrel Racing; Free

7:30 p.m. April 19-21; 2 p.m. April 22: Buc Days Miller Lite PRCA Rodeo, American Bank Center Arena

April 19-22: Buc Days Rodeo Coors Light BBQ Tailgate Party, outside ABC Arena

FESTIVAL and PARADES

April 26-May 6: Buc Days Festival and Stripes Carnival

6 p.m. April 26: Dunking of Mayor Pro Tem David Loeb, Corpus Christi Marina

9:30 p.m. April 27: Celebrate Our Port! Fireworks at Buc Days Port of Corpus Christi and HDR Engineering, Free cupcakes to first 3,000 people

11 a.m. April 28: Buc Days IBC Bank Junior Parade, Shoreline Boulevard along bayfront

May 3: Coronation (Las Doñas de la Corte)

6 to 9 p.m. May 4: Buc Days Reliant Energy Scholarship Dinner, Keynote Speaker Bill Greehey, Henry Garrett Ballroom; Miss Buc Days and Buc Days King to be announced.

7 p.m. May 5: Buc Days TOYOTA Illuminated Night Parade begins

Source: Buccaneer Commission

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Buc Days

Timeline

1917: Splash Days, the precursor to Buc Days, begins. The event heralded the beginning of the tourist season, a bathing beauty contest was the main feature.

1938: Splash Days evolves and is renamed Buccaneer Days. The patron saint of Buc Days, Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda (played by Marcellus G. Eckhardt), captures the city for three days of revelry that include a parade with five bands and 15 floats, a pageant and a ball. Alonzo eventually was replaced by pirate queens, who capture the mayor (or the mayor's stand-in) and have he or she walk the plank.

1939: The Buccaneer Days Commission receives its charter.

1942: The Buccaneers Days Commission, along with the Chamber of Commerce, agree to cancel the festival as it was not essential to the war effort.

1950: The Bucaraders form to take charge of the parade. The group eventually becomes known for their white jumpsuits and strict 8 p.m. start time for the night parade.

1953: The age limit for beauty pageant entries reduced from 18 to 17.

1954: The first night parade, now one of the most anticipated events during Buc Days, begins. Las Doñas de la Corte forms and holds the first coronation pageant, now an annual tradition coinciding with Buc Days.

1955: Navy destroyer USS Hailey arrives as part of celebrations.

1959: Singer Jimmy Dean entertains at the beauty pageant and pirate dance.

1963: A mythology theme yields float with dragons featuring sirens, Pandora and Goddess Cere.

1968: A 5-year-old girl is killed in speedboat race crash on Lawrence Street T-Head.

1973: The fireworks barge explodes, burning two men.

1979: The four-story-tall Budweiser hot air balloon collapses during grand procession at Buc Stadium.

1985: A 650-pound lion, Leo, and seven tigers from Texas Safari make up one of the first animal acts.

1992: The first Buccaneer Days Pro Rodeo is organized. Today the rodeo is a top stop on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour.

1996: Buc Days begins to charge admission for the carnival. Problems with gang fights and stabbings prompted organizers to erect a security fence and the $1 fee was designed to offset that cost.

2001: For the first time in 56 years, the Buc Days fireworks show is canceled due to lack of funds. But sponsors step up and the fireworks resume in 2002.

2002: Buc Days organizers hold the first barbecue challenge, now an annual event. Starting in 2004, organizers began selling sampler plates to the public after spectators complained they were paying to get in, but there were no samples or plates available to purchase.

2010: The Illuminated Night Parade starts at Buc Stadium for the final time. CCISD replaced the stadium track soon after and the new surface no longer could accommodate the heavy parade floats. After years of awarding scholarships and crowning a Buc Days queen, officials begin crowning a king as well.

Compiled by Allison Ehrlich and Mike Baird

Source: Caller-Times files

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