By Anita Burke
For the Daily Tidings
In one fluid motion, Luis Rodriguez dropped onto a patch of linoleum tacked to the center of a flatbed trailer bedecked with Kids Unlimited banners. He flipped to balance on his head and began to spin, his legs helicoptering through the air.
A row of gray-haired women sitting in comfortable curbside chairs on Medford's Central Avenue let out a collective gasp and started clapping as the truck and trailer rolled by.
"Hey, look," 9-year-old Kaulynn Shreeve called to his friend Ian Jones, 11. "These guys are cool."
The two boys took off on skateboards down the sidewalk to keep the Kids Unlimited dancers in their wide-eyed view while Ian's 6-year-old brother, Evan, jogged along with them.
"They are pretty good," Kaulynn said.
Rodriguez, 25, leads a group of break-dancers who practice each Monday in the dance studio at Kids Unlimited. They come from middle and high schools around the county.
The dancing was just one of many Kids Unlimited activities highlighted in the youth center's entry in the 56th annual Pear Blossom Festival Parade, held Saturday in downtown Medford.
Members of basketball and soccer teams dribbled down the parade route or clutched balls under their arms. The rally ball squad carried racquets they use to play the game that teaches tennis basics, while dozens of elementary school kids clad in colorful Kids Unlimited T-shirts scampered about, celebrating the energy of the after-school programs. One teen sported the cap and gown she'll wear when she graduates from high school this spring.
"This is just the genuine elements of our program — kids being kids and doing the things they do at Kids Unlimited," said director Tom Cole, who was invited to participate in the parade as part of its Hometown Heroes theme.
He stressed, however, that the organization is about championing kids, so the focus shouldn't be on him.
"These kids are the heroes, now and in the future," Cole said. "They are the ones making good choices to make a difference."
The kids brainstormed ways to showcase their activities and wanted their parade entry to have plenty of focus on throwing candy. Rachel Petetit, volunteer coordinator, rallied the volunteers, kids, parents and even a dog for Saturday's big event.
She said organizing the parade entry was much like what Kids Unlimited strives to do every day to keep kids in school and out of trouble and parents connected with youths.
"We find what they like and use it constructively," Petetit explained.
"I'm so excited," said Yaremi Mejia, a 15-year-old McLoughlin Middle School student who has played basketball at Kids Unlimited for four years. Wearing her basketball jersey, she eagerly awaited the start of the parade. "I've seen it before, but I've never volunteered to be in it."
Laura Kendall said she's lived in the Rogue Valley for 28 years and had never been in the Pear Blossom Parade — until this year when she and her fiance and their five kids turned out to be part of the Kids Unlimited entry.
"I thought it sounded like fun," she said. "It's different than watching."
Performing aggressive dance moves in the spring sunshine on the back of a moving trailer is "something way different" than the hours of practice at Kids Unlimited's 5,000-square-foot dance studio with a spring-loaded floor, said Brandy Oliva, 17.
"It was pretty fun," said the South Medford High School student. "We knew how to keep them entertained."
The parade entertained crowds that included babies, grandmothers and a fair number of dogs of all sizes.
"It's just really great how everybody gets into it," said Ed Nevarez of Central Point.
He and his wife, Lashell, and their four children staked out a corner near Alba Park to watch waving princesses, silly Shriners, energetic cheerleaders, marching bands and vintage tractors roll by. The parkside location was close to Nevarez's favorite attraction — the food — and the face painting that the kids were looking forward to.