Parade expected to be biggest yet

Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Blowing the whistle to start Friday's Homecoming Parade is how director Max Weiss will know his work has paid off.

It is a longstanding tradition at the University of Florida for the parade director to receive a whistle as a gift from the parade staff.

"I can't wait to blow the whistle," said Weiss. "The quality of the floats (in Friday's parade) will probably never be higher."

Over its 84 years, the Homecoming Parade has grown into one of Gainesville's most celebrated events, as the procession every year sets out at noon from the corner of University Avenue and Gale Lemerand Drive and heads east down University to Main Street.

What's different about this years parade? For one, parade participants could apply online for the first time, and applications from 175 entrants mark the most in parade history, Weiss said.

More than 130,000 people are expected to view the parade from along the route. The parade itself will include about 65 floats, 60 special units and six bands.

Not all applicants were accepted for the parade, said Weiss - including one who wanted to ride a bull down University Avenue. He had to be turned down due to risk-management concerns, Weiss said.

One new UF policy will not allow those on floats to throw anything to parade viewers, said Beth Waltrip, UF director of student activities.

"It's just such a great event," Waltrip said. "The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt."

Justin Stone, the associate general chair of UF Homecoming and former director of the parade, said he hopes the3 parade will move smoothly and efficiently down University Avenue.

"After planning the parade last year, I think it needed to be made a little bit shorter," Stone said. "We are placing more staff along the route to assure that units don't stop and keep moving fluidly."

About 90 parade staffers will be helping out.

"There's no other event in Gainesville like it," Waltrip said. "Unlike a football game, which is mostly alumni and students, this really has folks from all over the community."

At the start of Friday's parade will be a tribute to the late Corey Dahlem, the Gainesville Police lieutenant who died after being struck by a vehicle in April in the aftermath of the celebration of Florida's second straight national basketball championship.

"There will be officers riding on horseback in his honor," Stone said.

Grand marshal for the parade will be members of the band Lynryd Skynryd, which will perform Friday night at Gator Growl.

The UF Surf Club is known for having one of the best floats, Stone said, and apparently the trend will continue.

"We are going to have the biggest float we can possibly have," said Todd Kinsey, president of the Surf Club. "It's going to be the most energetic by far."

The club has built a two-story float that will include the live reggae band Juice aboard and performing. Two of the band members happen to be UF and Surf Club alumni.

Macy's at The Oaks Mall will be participating in the parade for its second year.

"We designed the float especially for this parade," said Melissa Goff, vice president of public relations for Macy's. "As soon as it was over last year, we knew we wanted to do it again."

The All American Twirling Academy is excited to participate for its ninth year, said June Stoeber, the academy's director, who says twirlers have been working on the routine since September. About 30 twirlers ranging in age from 4 to 18 will take part.

"We look forward to the parade every year because the kids have such a great time," Stoeber said. "It really makes them feel like they are a part of this community."

The parade will be broadcast on TV and online by WUFT.

"Folks all over the nation can watch the parade on their computers," said Frank Counts, executive producer for WUFT. "So if you're in a Gator Club in Denver, or anywhere, you can still watch."

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