Baylor University’s homecoming parade unites thousands who love green and gold, but the students who build the event’s floats target a different, much smaller audience — a three-person judging panel.
Months of planning and hundreds of hours of work culminate with a 15-minute presentation to the judges as the Greek organizations angle for a first-place win and bragging rights.
Case in point: a fairytale-themed float built by Kappa Sigma sorority and Pi Beta Phi fraternity included three live piglets for the judges’ walk-through Friday, but the animals will not be on display during Saturday’s parade through downtown Waco.
There are 11 floats in this year’s parade, eight of which were produced by a sorority/fraternity duo.
“They have to submit a theme on the same morning as Diadeloso in April,” said Jessika White, president of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, which
organizes the homecoming parade. “So what ends up happening is, because it’s so competitive and everyone wants to make sure they get the theme that they thought of, we end up having float chairs lining up outside of our office early in the morning.
“What’s happened in years past is that they’ve actually slept outside of the office to make sure they reserve their spot, because it’s first-come, first-served.”
This year’s float judges included Baylor communications lecturer Jane Damron, alum and Waco physician Dr. Dean Paret and recent Baylor grad Emily Smith.
Smith and Paret each were members of the chamber of commerce as students. Paret said during his time at Baylor in the 1970s, some floats were so tall that students built them with hinges to fold pieces over while crossing under the Interstate 35 overpass on the parade route.
“We didn’t have as many restrictions as they do now, about safety and construction,” Paret said. “We took a quite bit more liberties with the designs. But that was the ’70s, we’ve learned a lot of (safety) stuff since then.”
Perks of judging
Judging has its perks — a limo ride around Waco and as far north as Elm Mott and West to secret sites where the Greek organizations assemble their floats; free food like kolaches from the Czech Stop or fried-to-order beignets and coffee provided by the organizations; and even souvenirs, like the hardcover book “ ’Twas the Night Before Homecoming,” which members of Zeta Tau Alpha and Phi Delta Alpha wrote and illustrated to accompany their “Dreaming of Victory” float theme.
But the objective is to make sure the floats capture the spirit and traditions that will resonate with homecoming attendees.
“I’m looking at it from the standpoint of someone on the ground watching the float in the parade,” Paret said. “What’s going to stand out, and how am I going to read it as it goes by is how I’m trying to view it.”
And the floats have no shortage of features to examine. The Zeta Tau Alpha/Phi Delta Alpha float features a mechanical version of Baylor’s mascot, Bruiser, asleep in bed, his chest rising and falling as he sleeps, as well as a mock-up of the Baylor Lariat predicting a 71-0 win over homecoming opponent Iowa State.
The Kappa Alpha Theta/Phi Kappa Chi “Picnic” float had a track of oversized mechanical ants “marching” alongside a wooden picnic basket and lunch goodies toward an anthill. And the entire Delta Delta Delta/Pi Kappa Phi float was shaped into a riverboat dubbed “Brazos Belle 2.”
While Class B and Class C floats are restricted to $2,250 and $1,750 in materials costs, respectively, floats in the Class A category have no spending limits. White said some groups have spent as much as $10,000 on their floats in recent years, though she estimated that few shell out that much.
Not all of the judging sessions went off without a hitch. A water feature on the picnic float — a large can of Dr Pepper turned on its side spilling soda — overflowed brown liquid during the judging presentation and had to be mopped up with paper towels.
While viewing a “Man of Steel” float that depicted Bruiser as Superman fending off an Iowa State Cyclone attack on downtown Waco, Damron questioned whether buildings that were rigged to rock from side to side had been sufficiently secured to the float.
Moments later, a rotating gold globe atop a stationary building crashed to the ground. One of the fraternity members managed to lighten the moment by joking that it was a casualty of the cyclone raging through the city.
“I feel like some things are an issue of time management, and that they didn’t give themselves enough time to finish three days ago to work out the details,” Damron said of the various mechanical glitches at different sites. “You can look at it and see the creativity and that’s a good thing, but if it’s not working for the judges to see, it takes away from it.”
Smith said while the major props are eye-catching, she had higher praise for floats that addressed big-picture concepts like pops of color and mixing tall and short features while also paying careful attention to construction and materials.
For example, she praised a wraparound bookshelf feature on the Kappa Sigma/Pi Beta Phi float which incorporated over 100 individually crafted faux books emblazoned with quirky titles like “Green Eggs and Spam,” “Frank and Stein” and “To Kill a Hummingbird.”
“You can see a lot of time was involved with the intricate writing and the titles on all the books, so that’s important, to have that attention to detail,” Smith said.
In the end, it was an elaborate magical “Illusions” float by Kappa Omega Tau that earned the overall judges’ choice for the entries.
Kappa Alpha Theta and Phi Kappa Chi’s picnic float took home top honors in the Class A category, Alpha Delta Pi/Beta Theta Pi won first place in Class B, and Kappa Chi Alpha secured the Class C win.
“The thing you realize is that so many of them have a lot of talent and creativity, and there was a lot of teamwork in coming up with a theme in helping bring it to life,” Smith said. “I think the students really learn a lot of lessons in being able to complete something like this.”