It’s about 7:30 Wednesday night at the American Legion on Tybee Island, and the place is packed.
Nearly a dozen ladies are wearing sashes bearing some variation of the “Tybee Island Beach Bum Parade Queen” title, and a new sister is joining to the ranks.
“It’s wonderful,” laughs Amorette Zittrauer. “I always watched the parade, but in my car with the windows rolled up so I didn’t get wet. This will be fun.”
Zittrauer is 90 years young, full of spunk with a nearly constant smile.
She is about to be crowned the 2022 Beach Bum Parade Queen, and while she’s never actually been in the parade, she was one of the first score keepers and managers for the former Beach Bums softball team.
“They didn’t have anyone who wanted to take over the men’s team, so I helped out for a while, helped keep order,” she says laughing. “(Once) I called timeout and I sent the third baseman out to right field ’cause he was worse for wear (because the team had been drinking all day) and the umpire wasn’t gonna let him play.”
This is the 35-year anniversary of that first Beach Bums softball season/parade, and the room is full of similar stories of frivolity and good times.
Former Beach Bums coach Jack Boylston and his buddies from the Ship Watch Lounge at the old DeSoto Hotel formed the team on a whim and never took their softball very seriously.
“We just wanted to have a good time,” he says. “We just wanted to play real bad… and we did. Our guys would be out in the outfield, fly balls would come and hit them in the head. They’d be chasing (the balls) and fall down, running from one base to another and fall. It was just for fun.”
Fake fire drills and beer kegs were regular additions to Beach Bums’ games, with girlfriends and wives serving as cheerleaders and bartenders. By the end of that first season the other, more serious teams on the Tybee Island league had learned to relax when the Beach Bums were around.
The team celebrated the end of the season with a tongue-in-cheek awards banquet and loosely staged parade down Butler Ave.
The next season the team’s popularity (and antics) had grown.
When that second season wrapped and the team again made its celebratory trek down Butler, they were ambushed by another group of players armed with water balloons… The Beach Bum Parade was born and has since grown exponentially, often attracting thousands of (mostly) willing participants and national media attention.
More than three decades later, most of that original softball team is no longer with us. In fact, Boylston says four members of the original Beach Bums crew have been lost since the most recent, pre-pandemic parade.
But he says, the Beach Bum Parade is the one day a year when everyone on Tybee Island is unofficially a “Tybeeian” and when for one brief moment (no matter how crowded) the island feels like it’s full of old friends.
“It’s Tybee,” says Boylston as he looks around the room. “It’s the only one in the world, water fight like this. It started out as a joke in ’87 and now it’s Tybee.”
Back at the front of the room Zittrauer has been joined by this year’s Big Kahuna (or Beach Bum Parade King) Rudy Rudon and Grand Marshall Jay Altman. Both are gregarious and fun and part of a younger generation on Tybee.
But remember, this is the Beach Bums crowd and that means everyone almost feels like family.
“We had a lot of fun,” says Amorette. “This is great and I’m so proud to represent all my friends.”