By the time August ended, Gulfportians thoroughly hailed the Gecko with the Gecko Pub Crawl, the Gecko Ball, and the festival that started all the Gecko madness: the 13th Annual GeckoFest. Some things changed while others remained the same.
This year, Mayor Emeritus Mike Yakes led the GeckoFest parade while current Mayor Sam Henderson introduced the parade. Mike Yakes is the only mayor who has led the parade, although former vice mayor Dave Hastings did lead the parade in his stead one year. Until this year, GeckoFest never occurred when Mike Yakes wasn’t mayor.
Following him in the parade including traditional – for Gulfport – members of the foot parade: Fallopian Tuber Toffer Ross on tuba, Greg Stemm in funky gecko regalia, Gecko Goddess Elizabeth Neily, the Pitzen family with an elaborate-looking gecko float, and the usual cadre of pirates, buskers, and local business leaders. New this year was the Boca Ciega High marching band and flag team, performing in unison up and down Beach Boulevard.
The biggest change this year? Gulfport, for the first time ever, crowned a Gecko Queen. The Gulfport Merchants Association bestowed the title on Faun Weaver, introducing her at the Gecko Ball as her Gecko Court escorted her onto the dance floor. The Queen and her court also marched in the parade. Queen Weaver’s first duty after Gecko Season will be when the Gulfport Historical Society crowns its first Mullet King; she will have to crown the King.
Next year, both organizations expect to have a contest for the next Gecko Queen and Mullet King. The original name for the first GeckoFest was “Gecko Fest and Mullet Mutiny”; GeckoFest started as an end-of-summer celebration, according to the GeckoFest web site.
The GeckoBall, held the Saturday before GeckoFest, started several years after GeckoFest as a fundraiser. First held at the Peninsula, organizers moved the Ball to the Casino as the Ball outgrew the Peninsula’s capacity. Even with the larger space – the Casino has room for 300 people – the Ball sold out several weeks before the actual event. Next year, one Gulfport Merchant’s board member told the Gabber, the Merchants want to have a midnight madness ticket sale to help draw attention to GeckoFest.
The Pub Crawl, held in the beginning of the month, also sold out before the event started.