On April 23, a St. Pete Beach school will take part in a delicious, nutritious, 92-year-old tradition: the Gulf Beaches Elementary School Fish Broil.
The first fish broil, held in October 1930, was a fundraiser put on by the Parents’ Club at Pass-a-Grille’s Sunshine School, established in 1926. As the name suggests, the school offered elementary education with a Florida twist: Among other beachy features, students spent at least 45 minutes a day learning swimming, fitness, and first aid with the help of Red Cross-certified instructors (and the nearby Gulf).
But the Great Depression cast a shadow over Sunshine, and by 1930, the school could not afford to pay instructors. The Parents’ Club got to work digging a pit, lighting buttonwood coals, and broiling a truly enormous amount of mullet, donated by local fishermen, on an old bedspring. And so began an annual gathering that many locals would come to regard as the social event of the year.
The Fish Broil has evolved over time, moving to Gulf Beaches Elementary (now Gulf Beaches Elementary Magnet School) after the Sunshine School closed in 1975. The broil, which regularly attracted a thousand participants, expanded to include such elements as a carnival, an auction, and a publicity poster contest for students.
This year’s broil features bounce houses and carnival games, vendors, the Kona Ice truck, and a choice of chicken, fish, or hot dog meals. While the event traditionally happens in the fall, COVID-19-related concerns led the planners to postpone this year’s event until spring.
While everyone is having fun, they will also be supporting St. Pete Beach’s only public school, explains GBEMS PTA President, Kay Clark. Proceeds support school-wide initiatives as well as providing mini-grants for teachers to purchase learning materials for their classrooms.
“We all know that teachers often spend their own money on things they need to help their students learn,” says Clark. “This keeps that cost from coming out of their pockets.”
Much has changed since GBEMS Principal Robert Kalach attended the fish broil as a child. St. Pete Beach has grown considerably, and the school, which reopened with its magnet program in 2014, now serves a much broader portion of the Pinellas County. But the fish broil still inspires a strong sense of community, from the students who sell tickets to their families and neighbors, to the parents and staff who volunteer time and organizational skills, to businesses who sponsor the event. And, of course, the brave souls – Kalach included – who climb into the dunk tank.
And the old bedsprings for cooking the fish? Still around. Kalach laughs. “The rich tradition continues today!”
2022 GBEMS PTA Annual Fish Broil Carnival Gulf Beaches Elementary Magnet School, 8600 Boca Ciega Drive, St. Pete Beach. April 23: 4-7 p.m. $5-$10, plus extra for goodies and games. bit.ly/fishbroil