Coakley's parents and neighbors organized a children's parade on March 17, 1979, along 109th Street between Washtenaw and Talman avenues in Morgan Park. Parents were encouraged to cheer on the marchers, which included Coakley and his brother, Pat, in their Boy Scout uniforms escorting the American flag.
The South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade was born on that day and continues to draw on this same tradition of neighborhood families celebrating Irish heritage, Coakley said.
"If I grew up on Fairfield [the next street over], I probably wouldn't be as involved in this," Coakley joked.
The 2014 parade begins at noon on Sunday. The march starts at 103rd Street and Western Avenue, and the two-hour parade travels south along Western to 115th Street.
The South Side Irish parade is the largest neighborhood-based St. Patrick’s Day Parade outside of Dublin. Some 150,000 spectators are expected, and 100 groups are participating, including first responders, pipe bands, Irish dancers and representatives of 12 local parishes.
"The number of parishes has gone up. Who else are we trying to attract? That's perfect," Coakley said.
This is the third year that the parade has returned since being canceled after the 2009 march. Rowdy, drunken behavior among parade-goers was blamed for canceling the event, which returned in 2012.
The parade reemerged with a strict zero-tolerance policy for alcohol. Fines were increased. Adults drinking in public within 800 feet of the parade now face a $500 to $1,000 ticket if caught and could even face up to six months in jail.
Organizers also added private security to supplement the efforts of the Chicago Police Department. North Side and suburban bar owners who previously sponsored bus trips to and from the South Side Irish Parade were encouraged to stay away.
The effort has been heralded as a success. Marketing aimed at families has resulted in a crowds along Western Avenue toting baby buggies rather than coolers.
"You see more coffee cups than anything," Coakley said of drinking along the parade route.
Still, the parade organizers remain dedicated to maintaining this family-friendly atmosphere. Among the positions added this year is a volunteer assigned to monitor social media. If any potential problem groups voice interest in attending the parade, they're reminded about the restrictions and fines for alcohol.
"The truth of the matter is there is not that interest," Coakley said.
As the street pole banners go up and the anticipation mounts, local residents should note that there will be no parking on the east side of Artesian Avenue from 103rd to 111th or on the west side of Claremont Avenue from 103rd to 107th streets beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m. on the day of the parade.
Expect traffic to be restricted on side streets surrounding Western Avenue from about 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.