"Parades are all about a chance to strut," said Superman, snapping his shoulders back and pumping his red shoes, cape and blue body stocking up and down. Wonder Woman, Captain America and the Lone Ranger joined Superman in the practice strut on the Mall before stepping into the Cherry Blossom Parade yesterday.

Superman (really mild-mannered Bob Maslow of Bethesda) and the other "Super-heroes" paraded with high schools from 34 states, including Washington's Shaw Junior Hight School band, lavish floats with beauty contest winners, a group of medieval marauders who stole a girl out of the crowd, and a tribe of girls from Choctawhatchee High School in Florida who gave a scream every few steps.

It was the biggest Cherry Blossom Parade in recent years, according to the Downtown Jaycees, the sponsors.

In addition to the "Superheroes," super weather pushed the temperature to 88 degrees at 2:45 p.m., and broke the record for the highest temperature ever recorded here on April 1. That helped draw a parade crowd of 250,000, according to D.C. police.

Charlie Chilton, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the winds that whipped the giant American flag hanging from two fire engine aerial ladders over 15th Street and Constitution Avenue during the parade yesterday reached gusts of 40 mph.Chilton said the winds will ease up today and so will the temperature, which are expected to range from the low 40s to the mid-60s.

But today can't take anything away from yesterday, which was the perfect day for a big-city parade. Assistant Police Chief Bernard Cooke led parade down Constitution Avenue in a Corvette Stingray followed by Mayor Walter Washington in a long black limosine, and the U.S. Army Field Band, with big brass tubas bellowing bass sounds over the crowd.

The U.S. Army Marching Platoon followed them, clicking heels in a fast, precise cadence that brought many in three relaxed crowd to their feet to get a better look."

"It's a beautiful day for a picnic and a parade," said Pat Goodman of Arlington, as she sat on a red-and-white picnic cloth, drinking Perrier water and eating delicatessen sandwiches with her husband, Carl.

"We wanted to be around where people were having a good time," Carl Goodman said. "We wanted to get out of the apartment and go somewhere where there was lots of activity.

Throughout the crowd at the parade several mothers and fathers were watching babies who were seeing their first parade.

"It is her first parade and she loves it," said Stuart Baker, looking at his half-year-old daughter Margaret. "She's been getting into the spirit. Whenever a band comes by she starts crawling."

Among the biggest crowd pleasers in the parade were the Budweiser Clydesdales.

"I couldn't get over seeing them," said Linda Gooch, who was eating fried chicken with her sister and children. "They really gave me a big kick."

While most of the people along the route watched leisurely, the high school bands in the parade were competing fiercely to be the best band of the day.

"I'm always optimistic," said Lloyd Hoover, Shaw Junior High School's band leader, "but the competition out here today is a little tough."

Parade officials allowed only one band from each state in the parade.

The winning bands were: Senatobia High School from Senatobia, Miss., in the small band category; Greenwood High School Band from Greenwood, S.C., in the medium-size category and Salinas High School, from Salinas, Kan., in the big band category.

"We think we had the best bands and the best Cherry Blossom Parade in years, even though the cherry blossoms didn't make it out," said Bob Michalski, who produced the parade for the Downtown Jaycees. "The weather was just right for a parade."