Bel Air High Boosters will run this year's Independence Day pancake breakfast, Lions Club is out

Bel Air Lions served 2,217 people at last year's July 4 pancake breakfast

The Bel Air Lions Club has spent 21 years serving pancakes and sausage to hundreds of Bel Air Independence Day revelers on the morning of July 4, but its members will not be manning the grills this year.

Harold Boccia, a Lions Club member and chair of the annual pancake breakfast, said he and his fellow Lions learned about three weeks ago they had been replaced.

"It was just announced very abruptly, with no explanation, and that was it after 21 years," Boccia said Thursday.

The pancake breakfast, a long-standing tradition of Bel Air's Independence Day festivities, is still on for this year, but the Bel Air High School Athletic Booster Club will run it.

"The Booster Club is a perfect fit for this event," Aaron Cahall, a spokesperson for the Bel Air Independence Day Committee Inc., wrote in an email Thursday. "The BAHS football team has helped out at the breakfast for the last few years, and the Booster Club has the personnel and enthusiasm to continue its long history of success."

The breakfast is scheduled for 7 to 11 a.m. Monday, July 4, at Bel Air High School, with a menu that includes pancakes, regular or blueberry, sausage, coffee and juice, according to Cahall.

The school is at 100 Heighe St., and people should use the school's side entrance off Baltimore Pike, according to the Independence Day website, www.belairjuly4.org.

The cost is $7 per adult and $4 per child younger than 10; net proceeds will got to the Boosters, Cahall stated.

The change in leadership was announced during a recent Independence Day Committee meeting, member Perry Thompson said.

Thompson said Don Stewart, the committee president, announced that organizers wanted a group involved with the school to run the breakfast.

Stewart could not be reached for comment Thursday. Michael Blum, the July 4th parade chairman, said Stewart was out of town. Blum declined to comment on the change, noting it was a committee decision.

"It wasn't [the Lions Club's] choice, but it was the committee's decision to have a new group do it," Thompson, who is also a Lions Club member, said.

Cahall said the committee "extends their heartfelt thanks to the Bel Air Lions Club for their decades of work in building the breakfast into a treasured community event."

The Athletic Booster Club is a volunteer organization that raises money for BAHS student scholarships and to support athletic teams.

Lions Club members and BAHS student-athletes have supported each others' prior events, Booster Club President Robert Wehland wrote in an email Thursday.

Wehland noted the school administration asked the Boosters to handle the event, passing along a request from a Lions Club representative, since the event had been held at the school and football players made up a majority of student volunteers.

"We are still in the process of coordinating service and working with folks who managed the event in the past so we can be fully prepared to meet and uphold the expectations of this annual community event," he wrote.

The Lions Club is a nonprofit community service organization with local chapters across the country.

The Bel Air Lions Club has been in charge of the pancake breakfast since 1995.

"It's like a rite of passage on July 4," Boccia said. "Between 7 and 11:30, people went to the pancake breakfast and then they went to the other events."

The breakfast was held at Bel Air Middle School when the Lions Club took over, and about 300 people attended.

Attendance grew to about 600, and the breakfast was moved to the high school three years later. The school was on Kenmore Avenue then; the current building opened in 2009.

"We thought we died and went to heaven when they built the new school," Boccia recalled. "It had all the amenities you could ask for when you put on an event like this."

Boccia said about 85 volunteers worked at the 2015 breakfast, including Lions Club members and others from the community. They served all-you-can-eat pancakes to 2,217 people, or about one person every 45 seconds.

The pancakes were cooked on 10 stainless-steel grills outside, and patrons ate inside the school cafeteria.

Bel Air students worked inside, clearing tables, taking out the trash and cleaning spills, Boccia said.

"The main thing was, nobody left hungry," he said.

Wehland, of the booster club, said organizers are expecting at least 2,000 people at this year's breakfast, and at least 50 volunteers will be involved, including students, coaches and parents.

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