A Newberry tradition: homecoming


The last high school in Alachua County to have the small-town tradition, the Newberry High School football team participates in the annual Newberry Homecoming Parade along Newberry Road in Newberry on Friday.

Erica Brough/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 at 9:05 p.m.

NEWBERRY - The gray of Jordan Parnell's medical boot peeked out from underneath her white dress as she danced before the parade.

Even though she nursed a broken ankle from cheerleading, she still wanted to dance merengue and salsa with the Spanish Club during Newberry High School's Homecoming Parade on Friday.

"Oh yeah," said the 16-year-old. "Not stopping."

It is the last of a disappearing small-town tradition in Alachua County — locals bringing out lawn chairs and lining the streets to wave to their high schoolers in the hours before the homecoming football game.

Martha Conrad, nurse at Newberry High, set up in her front yard with friends.

"The kids get excited," she said. "The camaraderie of the community … that's neat."

In the 30 minutes before the parade, the floats lined Southwest 15th Avenue behind the school's track.

Perched in a red Mustang convertible, basketball player Troy Matthews, 17, said he hoped he and his multi-sport partner Michaela Leitch, 17, would be crowned king and queen during halftime of Friday night's homecoming game.

They both were happy to be riding in the parade.

"I feel honored to be representing my school," she said.

A few floats back, students in the local chapter for Future Farmers of America calmed Dusty the donkey, their restless mascot who brayed as his keepers petted his freshly painted blue mane.

When the time came, the school's Panther mascot hopped onto his float, the drivers turned on their engines and the police escorts turned on their lights.

***

Three minutes after 3 p.m., the drum line began the cadence.

Marching behind a royal blue banner with gold fringe, the band led the parade of floats through the streets in a parade that has entertained locals for more than 60 years.

Residents shouted to the students by name, especially when the tractor-trailer hauling the varsity football team sitting on hay bales rolled by.

Parnell chose to walk the route with her dance partner. Dressed in flowing white with a red sash tied around her waist, she held onto one side of her dress as her hips moved to the merengue beat.

Many student clubs had boys and girls riding in sports cars and trucks as their groups' sweethearts.

Brodie Roland and Sara Schladant, both 17, got to see the parade from a different angle as band sweethearts.

Roland, a drum major, said it was his first time not marching with the band in the parade that sets his high school's homecoming apart.

"Newberry likes to do it old school, I guess," he said.

Martha Conrad waved from her front yard to her husband, Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad, as he pulled a boat holding another club sweetheart.

"It was my first time driving," he later said. He'd like to be a spectator again, though, because he missed seeing the whole parade.

***

In this town, your high school English teacher may be on the City Commission. The school nurse is married to the mayor. And when Newberry High School's homecoming comes around, people actually come home.

Newberry graduate Chelsea Hall, 19, said she was glad to go to another one of her alma mater's parades.

"We're still holding on," she said.

Haven Gill, 23, just moved back from Atlanta, but she always made the trip down for the weekend while she was away.

She watched the parade from the sidewalk along State Road 26 on Friday, only a few blocks from her old school.

To her, the festivities haven't lost their luster.

"It's a hometown tradition," she said. "You can't beat that."

Contact staff writer Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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