By Loni Ingraham
4:39 PM EDT, October 1, 2008
It is the ultimate revenge for any kid who has been ridiculed for the way he looks, the ultimate fantasy.
He triumphs over adversity. He grows up. He works hard. He excels. He wins international recognition. He attains great wealth. He is cheered by the masses and courted by the powerful.
When he returns to his hometown, he is greeted with a parade.
That may be the happy ending for some stories. But it's just the beginning for record-breaking Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who earned eight gold medals in Beijing this year on top of six gold medals in the Athens Olympics four years ago.
After all, Phelps, who grew up in Rodgers Forge, is only 23.
The parade has been dubbed The Parade of Gold. It will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at the intersection of York Road and Burke Avenue, proceed south on York past Rodgers Forge and disband at the Drumcastle Government Building in the Anneslie Shopping Center.
The parade is part of the homecoming celebration for Maryland's Olympic team and is designed to honor the state's 2008 Olympic athletes.
Towson's own world-record-breaking swimmer Katie Hoff, who left her parents' home to buy a condominium in Mt. Washington this year, brought back one silver and two bronze medals from Beijing.
Middle River teenager Jessica Long, whose legs were amputated before she was 2 months old, brought back six medals -- four gold, one silver and one bronze -- and set three world records at the Paralympic Games.
But, make no mistake about it, Michael Phelps has been the media darling before, during and after Beijing.
The big ears he was teased about when he was a boy now, more often than not, hear cheers. His once laughably long arms now propel him through the water to victory after victory. And his former stringbean-like frame is now encased in an amazing array of rippling muscle. The girls squeal when he wears his Speedo.
Now the returning hero's every move -- from hosting "Saturday Night Live" to previewing the 2012 London Olympics -- has been in a spotlight that politicians are eager to share.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith and Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon had to fit themselves into Phelps' schedule to get him to reign on their parade.
Riding or walking in the procession with members of the General Assembly and the County Council, as well as U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, and U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, they will share the spotlight with a lively and varied crew.
A sampling of the list reveals color guards, honor guards, police cars and fire trucks -- including an antique truck from the Fire Museum of Maryland -- and cheerleaders from the Baltimore Blast, the Baltimore Ravens and Phelps' alma mater, Towson High School, as well as the Oriole Bird, Uncle Sam, Don Crockett and his dog, Precious II.
The parade also includes representatives of Pete's Grill, home of Phelps' humongous breakfasts; the Special Olympics; the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where Phelps has trained, and Pathfinders for Autism, for which he has done charity work, as well as county schools Superintendent Joe Hairston, state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, Towson High Principal Jane Barranger and Lutherville Brownie Troops 4262 and 1167.
A parade isn't a parade without top-flight drums and music. The line-up includes marching bands from Towson, Loch Raven, Dulaney and Parkville high schools and Milford Mill Academy -- where Phelps' mother Debbie is the principal, as well as the drum and bugle corps from the Baltimore Boumi Temple and the Fort McHenry fife and drum corp.
The lineup also features Phelps' coach and business partner, Bob Bowman, and, of course, Michael Phelps himself.
Smith says everybody is excited about the upcoming celebration, which includes a Star Spangled Salute to Michael Phelps after the parade at Fort McHenry beginning at 7 p.m. and ending with fireworks.
"We are absolutely thrilled by the success of our Olympic champions and can't wait to welcome them home in grand style," Smith said.