Parade officials, marching groups are now in step Preakness event's restrictions lifted; everyone can strut


The organizers of Baltimore's Preakness Parade have backed off demands that angered some of the city's black marching groups, thus settling a dispute that threatened to mar the May 15 event.

Representatives of five groups scheduled to march had been told last week that only 48 youngsters from each band would be allowed to participate. Parade officials said the limit was necessary to assure the parade moved quickly enough to be locally televised in full, but they agreed yesterday to remove the restriction.

"I'm satisfied. We're all satisfied," said Margaret Robertson, president of the Unified Marching Bands of Baltimore, a coalition of black drum and majorette corps. "I'm sorry that it wasn't handled better at the beginning, but we're all glad it's worked out."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Pimlico racetrack owner Joe De Francis had officials from the five bands -- the Baltimore Westsiders, the New Edition Marching Band, the Cherry Hill Cherrettes, the Christian Warriors and the Baltimore Rockers -- join them at a news conference where the truce was announced.

Mr. De Francis told them he was trying to arrange a party where young members of the marching groups could meet rap star M. C. Hammer, who will be in Baltimore next week both to perform and to watch his horse, Dance Floor, run in the Preakness.

The Pimlico track's owner said later that he hoped the gesture would show the marching groups that he regretted any "misunderstanding" about their participation in the parade. "It was great of him to do that and much appreciated," Mrs. Robertson said.

While the controversy involving this year's parade seemed to be resolved, Mrs. Robertson said she still wants to meet with Mayor Schmoke to discuss ways of avoiding a similar controversy next year.

Mrs. Robertson and others have said that some staff members at Maryland Preakness Celebration Inc., the private non-profit group that organizes the parade and other Preakness-related activities, made them feel that participation by black youngsters had not been wanted.

Meanwhile, the city police yesterday dismissed as exaggerated complaints by a few radio talk-show callers that fans of the marching groups had caused disturbances along the parade route last year.

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said the department received a few complaints last year that may have stemmed from crowding along the parade route as young people, perhaps friends of parade participants, walked along.

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