100th cross dive planned to last detail
- ST. PETERSBURG (FLORIDA) TIMES
100th cross dive planned to last detail
By ROBIN STEIN
Published January 1, 2006
TARPON SPRINGS - It will be an event on the scale of a Super Bowl, involving
the security of a state visit and carrying the significance of divine
This week Tarpon Springs will celebrate the city's centennial Epiphany, an
ancient Greek Orthodox ceremony commemorating Christ's baptism in the River
Each year's Epiphany celebration draws as many as 30,000. But this year, the
city is expecting 80,000 visitors and VIPs, including the worldwide leader of
the Orthodox Church, who will travel from Istanbul to attend.
That means planning, on a scale Tarpon Springs has never seen.
From the private planes to the parking lots, buses to baklava, bird training
to satellite broadcasts, every detail of the event has required a series of
meetings, reams of paperwork and a never-ending stream of e-mail and phone calls
among a multitiered network of committees.
Coordinating it all is William Planes, chairman of the 2006 Patriarchal
Epiphany Visitation committee.
Typically a daylong event, Epiphany will encompass a week of celebration this
year, Planes said. Putting it together has cost $1.6-million and a year of
work for dozens of volunteers.
Epiphany preparation usually takes five months, beginning in August, said
Emmanuel Gombos, who has helped with the planning since 1975.
"This is going to be quite an impact for a little city," he said.
"I am excited about the Patriarch coming. It will be a beautiful centennial
affair, a homecoming if you will."
The Glendi celebration, usually held in Craig Park, will be at the Sponge
Docks, to accommodate a crowd that could be four times the usual size, said
Spanos Harding, head of the Glendi committee.
When the hungry throng arrive at food tents, 6,000 salads, 5,000 pastries,
and 10,000 souvlakis and sandwiches will await them. "They should have plenty to
feed 20,000 people at Glendi in the first couple hours," said Harding, who
added he had taken several weeks off from work to help prepare.
But even with nine tents, 200 tables and 3,000 chairs, seating will be tight.
The menu was planned for portability. "Everything's going to be in a pita,"
Besides the food, fire extinguishers and portable toilets, Harding has also
been overseeing the entertainment subcommittees, which are coordinating the two
local bands, 400 Greek dancers from around the country and a team of
Budweiser Clydesdale horses from St. Louis.
The logistics of moving 80,000 people in and out of town - and keeping them
safe - has been the central task consuming Sgt. Jeff Young of the Tarpon
Springs Police Department.
Add to that mix the presence of a religious figure considered by the U.S.
government to be a head of state, and the security for the event will be
More than 15 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have donated
officers and time, Young said. "On Epiphany day we will have over 150 law
enforcement officers involved with this event, the Glendi and the dinner that night
There will also be 75 EMS personnel posted in the city throughout the event,
The biggest challenge, Young said, will be ensuring people understand that
the city isn't designed to handle a crowd that large.
"It's not (Raymond James) stadium," he said. "People are going to have to be
patient; not everyone who goes down to the bayou is going to see the cross
Those willing to settle for a preview, though, may be able to catch a
training session of sorts.
For several weeks, Walter Postma has been training birds at Spring Bayou for
the big day, when one will be released as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Postma is not Greek or Orthodox, but after more than 30 years owning Walt's
Auto Parts a block away from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, he
developed a deep regard for the Greek community.
"I love the Greek people; they are so warm and family-oriented," he said.
The Epiphany birds that Postma trains are not doves, but actually homing
pigeons that can find their way home from 300 miles away, he said.
"They mate for life, just like the Greeks; they are so home-oriented," he
Like everything else about Epiphany, getting the bird ready requires a
surprising amount of preparation.
For the past month, Postma has been training three birds - two for backup -
for the 20-mile trip from Spring Bayou to Postma's home in New Port Richey.
"It's just like an athlete," Postma said. "I exercise them and keep their
muscles tight to make sure they are up for the race."
They even have a special training diet of green Gatorade.
You never know if a problem like a hawk or power line could arise, but so
far, so good, he said.
Sometimes it takes four hours, sometimes a whole day, but they have always
found their way home.
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