What better ride for the pride of Baltimore than The Pride of Baltimore?
The Pride of Baltimore II delivered Olympians and dignitaries to the amphitheater of Baltimore's Inner Harbor as Baltimore and Maryland saluted its Olympic and Paralympic athletes in a ceremony Monday afternoon.
Though all seven athletes in attendance—including pentathlete Suzanne Stettinius of Parkton, rower David Banks of Potomac, windsurfer Farrah Hall of Annapolis, cyclist Bobby Lea of Easton, former University of Maryland field hockey player Katie O'Donnell and kayaker Scott Parsons of Bethesda—were recognized, the day belonged largely to Michael Phelps, the Rodgers Forge swimmer who, with his six medals from London, is now the most decorated Olympian of all time.
"Michael may indeed be a citizen of the world now, but for us he will always be Michael of Rodgers Forge," said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz during his remarks.
A screen next to the stage played highlights of Phelps' 2012 medal run and career accomplishments as fans streamed in. Towson High School's Marching Generals warmed up the crowd with songs like "Living in America" and "Born in the USA." Several of Phelps' Towson High teachers and Towson High principal Jane Barranger were in the crowd.
"It was so appropriate and so moving and we were so glad to be a part of it," Barranger said. "We are so proud of our golden General."
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake talked about the pride of watching the games—especially Phelps primetime races—with her daughter.
"We were up watching it every night and it was great to watch it through her eyes, to see her find new heroes," she said. "Young people get to see new possibilities for their lives."
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley also singled out Debbie Phelps, Michael's mother, on whom the television cameras often turned during the races.
"You and your family represented all the families in Maryland so well, who wake up early to take their kids to swim practice or stay extra for soccer practice," O'Malley said. "You teach your kids that if you believe in yourself, if you believe in what you're doing, and if you work hard every day, you can not only compete, but you can win."
The three leaders presented the Olympians with bags that each included a key to Baltimore City, engraved Baltimore County desk clock and a commemorative coin for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
Towson High band director David Rhen said the band had played at welcome celebrations for Phelps in 2004 and 2008, but this was easily his students' biggest-ever stage.
"I told them this is probably the biggest thing you've done in your short lives," Rhen said. "I'm just very proud of them."
Officials also recognized the state's Paralympians, including track and field stars Tatyana and Hannah McFadden of Clarksville, and swimmers Jessica Long of Middle River and Rebecca Meyers of Timonium. The Paralympians are not yet home from London; the games' closing ceremonies were Sunday.
The event came on a big day for Baltimore sports—the Baltimore Ravens are set to take the field Monday night for a nationally-televised opening night, with Phelps as the honorary captain.
"This is the best city to be a part of for me," said Phelps, who thanked the county, state, city and fans for their support over the years in brief remarks onstage. "I just want to thank you all again and let's get a good game tonight, have some fun."
Many in the crowd were dressed in Ravens garb. Among the hundreds at the Inner Harbor were Phelps fans like Nancy and George Percivall of Crofton, who came with a sign that, depending on how you read it, said "Michael Phelps Baltimore" and "Michael Helps Baltimore."
"We were hoping for some kind of parade this year like the one four years ago," George Percivall said. "We're out here to support our Olympians."