Stories from UF Homecoming Parade

A scene from the UF Homecoming Parade 2013 along University Avenue and Main Street on Friday.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 5:13 p.m.

Here are posts from The Sun's crew on the parade route:

Cleanup duty

Willie Young, in Friday's crew picking up barricades along the route, has been working parade cleanup for 30 years.

The Gainesville Public Works motor equipment operator said the job would take longer than in previous years because there were more floats and more fans.

The wind was a steady breeze that shuffled trash away from the street sweepers. Individual workers chased the trash through the streets and up to storefronts, where it halted.

Young said 40 to 60 city employees clean up after the homecoming parade. It typically takes a couple of hours to clear the entire route.

- Amber Swal

FSU, Alabama fans

After the parade, James Jackson, 12, and his friend, Cody Braund, 12, tossed a football back and forth in the middle of University Ave.

James, wearing an Alabama shirt, and Cody, wearing an FSU jacket, enjoyed the parade, even though they are not Gator fans.

Cody's mom, a Gator fan, joked that he got picked on through the whole parade for wearing that sweater.

James' mom, Wendy Hendrix, also wearing an Alabama shirt, said they like the Gators just fine, “as long as they're not playing against our team.”

- Charlene Hewitt

Traditions, old and new

The University of Florida Homecoming Parade is a long-standing tradition for some families and a tradition-in-the-making for others.

One family made camp at about 7 in the morning. The intersection of Southwest Seventh Street and University Avenue is the traditional spot for the family.

Scott Clarence, 41, said he has been to many parades in his lifetime — this one is for his 7-year-old daughter, Jaylin. It's an experience she'll get so she can "put some things in her life book," he said.

His son Eli Williams, 14, threw around a football with friends nearby, and his wife, Michelle Carter, sat in a fold-up chair. Carter, 34, said her hands were already chilly from the early morning air. Clarence was all smiles.

Kalen Lewis stood at the intersection of 13th Street and University wearing her heart on her sleeves — her 6-week-old son, Tripp. With Tripp bundled, Lewis had a change of tradition this year. The 20-year-old said it is her first time not in the parade.

The Gainesville High School graduate said she used to do gymnastics.

She comes out for the parade every year, she said. This time, she had a 30-minute drive from High Springs.

Andy Davis sat on steps by University and 14th Street with camera in hand and Maggie, a 6-year-old Welsh springer spaniel, at his feet. The Atlanta resident came out with his wife, Sue Davis, to see their children.

Kathleen Davis, an 18-year-old nursing freshman at UF, said her brother was in the parade. The family got there a little more than an hour beforehand to watch him march with in the ROTC.

The dog, Maggie, wore an orange bandana. Sue Davis smiled. Gator colors, she said. The accessory was her idea.

- Jenna Lyons

Kingstown dressed in Gator gear

Wearing goggles and a Gators fleece, Kingstown, the 4-year-old rescued greyhound attracted a lot of attention.

The goggles were just for my enjoyment, said Pam Tilley-Hewlett, who fostered and then adopted Kingstown through Gold Coast Greyhounds Gainesville.

This was Tilley-Hewlett's second year at the parade. Her 6-year-old granddaughter, Madison Scott, participated in the parade last year with O2B Kids' Fusion Dance Company. Madison was supposed to participate this year, but she was sick, so Tilley-Hewlett came anyway.

- Charlene Hewitt

About that dragon

The Cuong Hhu dragon is back in Gainesville for the UF Homecoming parade this year.

The 13-person dragon cannot see its way along the parade route except through a jar-sized hole in the dragon's snout.

Denise Guerin, co-head of Cuong Nhu Oriental Martial Arts, guides the path of the dragon with the use of the red moon she carries along the course on a stick.

The dragon is now lightweight, filled with helium balloons underneath the draping fabric. It also has balloons attached to the top to help keep the dragon's green face and red tongue wooing crowds along the approximately two-mile trek.

The original dragon, though, was so heavy it took 15 strong men to carry, said sensei Lou Schilling. It was made of wooden 2x4s, chicken wire and paper maché.

The founder of the school was an escaped Vietnamese political soldier who arrived in Gainesville the Friday of UF's homecoming parade in 1973, Schilling said.

He managed to escape with his wife, three sons and daughter. Schilling said the founder was the only person the owner of a boat knew who could kill people with his bare hands and so the boat owner let him on board.

It took months for him to end at UF. But when he made it, he walked in the side door of the dojo off of University Avenue, Tallest Tree, and walked out of the front door to see the dragon swooping along the parade route.

- Amber Swal

'A fun, festive atmosphere'

There were a lot of “firsts” for Heather Martin at this year's University of Florida Homecoming Parade.

This was Martin's first year participating in Gator Gallop. A Gainesville resident who graduated from UF in 2002, she said this was her first time going to the parade since then.

“I never went before because I had to work,” she said.

Now that she's a UF employee, she took advantage of the day off to bring her 22-month-old son, Wyatt, to his first parade.

“He really liked the bands and the tractor. He likes to dance to the music.”

Overall, she thought it was a good experience for him.

“It's just a fun, festive atmosphere being around all the Gator fans,” she said.

- Kat Antunes

A sweater-and-shorts day

At temperatures just below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, Floridians consider it a cool day – a sweater-and-shorts sort of day. Fans and spectators lined the streets of University Ave. for the 90th annual homecoming parade.

Among them was 56-year-old Shelly Yomano who, shortly after police cleared the roads in preparation for the parade, sprinted into the road to chase down a plastic bag that blew away. When he caught it, onlookers cheered, and the officer patrolling the area shook his hand.

Yomano hadn't attended the parade for a few years, he said, but was thrilled to have the day off work today.

“I think the crowd's a little thinner this year, actually,” Yomano said. “But there are lots of families — that's good to see.”

- Charlene Hewitt

Burgers for Gators

Cliff Grant stood at his grill in front of Naughty Mel's on University, serving up burgers and hotdogs to a steady stream of hungry parade-goers.

Mel's has been serving up food and drink on the parade route between First and Main for three years, Grant said.

Burgers go for $4 with cheese and $3.50 without, and drinks and snacks go for a dollar.

Grant plans to keep cooking until 5 p.m.

Despite the Gators' current losing streak, Grant says business has been as good as ever.

"Most of our patrons are diehard Gator fans," he said. "They'll be here no matter what."

- Jovahn Huertas

'We don't close for parades'

The parade may have brought the rest of downtown to a standstill, but the doors at the Downtown Barber Shop stayed open.

"We only close for holidays. We don’t close for parades," said owner B.J. Webster.

For Webster, it's a win-win: he and his employees can watch the parade from the comfort of barber's chairs without having to interrupt business.

Webster said business was actually steady throughout the day. In fact, some people made an extra effort to make it to his shop.

"One man said he took 45 minutes just to get here for a haircut," he said.

- Jovahn Huertas

'A lot of work for them'

"I don't see anything," 9-year-old Madeline Bledsoe said as she craned her neck down University Avenue. "Can we go down a bit farther?"

It was nearly 12:30 p.m. and there were no floats or marchers in sight.

Madeline and her grandpa, Bhuoc Duong, had been sitting near the end of the parade route for half an hour and she was getting impatient.

This was only Madeline's second time at the parade, but her grandpa had been coming much longer, bringing her mother before her.

Finally, Madeline spotted the line of officers coming down the road with rifles and flags.

"Now you know why it takes so long, right? They have to walk all the way down from the stadium," Duong said to his granddaughter. "It's a lot of work for them."

- Jovahn Huertas

Albert steals the show

Minutes to start time, University Avenue was flooded with orange and blue, as far as the eye could see.

Smells of freshly-cooked popcorn wafted through the air. Movement was body-to-body. At the intersection of Gale Lemerand and University, police motorcycles gathered in the shape of a V.

Standing by the Albert and Alberta statue, Bruce DeLaney, the real estate director for the UF Foundation, checked his watch.

“All right,” DeLaney announced, “11:59!”

DeLaney said he's lived in Gainesville for 60 years - and the excitement of the parade has never dulled in that time.

“This is tradition,” he said. “The crowd, the weather, seeing old friends. This is what it's all about.”

After DeLaney spoke, the motorbikes revved their engines and flashed red-and-blue sirens. They shot down main street to the screams of parade-goers.

When Albert and Ally scooted by in an open blue car, UF student Brandon Robinson cupped his hands to his mouth and cheered from beneath a tent.

“Albert, I love you!” he said.

Robinson turned back to his friends, who were volunteering.

“This is my very first time here, and I'm a third-year student. I don't know why I didn't come sooner,” he said, pausing. “Albert definitely stole the show.”

- Zack Peterson

Lions among the Gators

Among the sea of embellished orange-and-blue floats in the staging area for the 90th University of Florida Homecoming Parade stand two trucks painted with green and gold.

Some parade-goers stop and shoot skeptical looks toward the group in coral "SLU" shirts, but the 28 members from the social work club at St. Leo University use the attention to spread awareness of the three-year-old social work programs housed at Santa Fe College.

The UF homecoming committee was skeptical about allowing a competing university to participate in the parade, said St. Leo professor Kimberly White. But after explaining that social workers who graduate from their programs will go on to serve the Gainesville community, the club got the green light.

"We're not in competing sports programs," said White, who also works at the Veterans Affairs center in Gainesville. "It's kinda cool that they're giving us a chance."

Although St. Leo's main campus is in St. Leo, in the outskirts of Tampa, their local social work programs are unique. UF does not offer their specific degrees.

Vee Brown, 43, a student in the social work bachelor's program at St. Leo, pitched the idea of having their club's float in the parade.

Brown is no stranger to the annual event; she's ridden with the fire department and Alachua County Sheriff's Office in 12 parades.

"The Gator theme worked well with what we believe," Brown said. "We're social workers; we empower people."

The club's two decorated cars integrated the two schools, promoting the motto "Guiding footsteps and leaving footprints," which ties in with this year's parade theme of "Footprints of the Swamp."

Casey Stern, 39, briefly attended UF before enrolling at St. Leo. Although Stern has lived in Gainesville since 1997, this is his first time participating in the parade.

He said he would Gator chomp for UF and roar like a lion, St. Leo's mascot, in the parade.

"When you live in Gainesville, you're part of the Gator Nation and the Gator community," he said.

- Colleen Wright

Getting ready to go

Tobin Wagstaff started Percussion Studio 10 years ago to teach children who couldn't afford music lessons how to play an instrument, sing and dance.

“This is what I'm passionate about,” Wagstaff said. “It's my way to give back.”

On Friday morning, Wagstaff and his crew of 75 young musicians returned the favor to the community by performing covers of “Rockin In The Free World” and “Rock and Roll” in the O'Connell Center parking lot.

Before the Gator Growl & Homecoming parade launched at noon, nearly 140 floats gathered in and around the lot under a light-blue sky and a bright white sun. Twangy country songs, jazz classics and rap beats competed for recognition. Puffs of smoke curled out of grills that were propped up on flatbeds.

“Sorry about that guys,” Wagstaff said, turning toward a trailer that held about 25 kids slinging guitars and wielding drum sticks. “I was doing an interview. Let's get this show going.”

The musicians nodded. Wagstaff then motioned to another line of drummers and dancers who lined up underneath the float.

“Three ... two ... one.”

Percussion Studio drummed out a beat that echoed across the parking lot, where, near the parking garage, UF's Dance Marathon float was receiving its final touch-ups.

“We decided to go for a '90s theme,” said Nicole Martinez, 21, an organizer and Dance Marathon participant.

She pointed to the float, which had Beanie Babies perched on the ledge, sheets of neon orange and yellow paper covering the sides and an arch that read: “1995.”

“That's the year Dance Marathon started at UF,” said Martinez, who was inspired to participate because of Ava, a young girl suffering from T-cell lymphoma.

“She gives me perspective,” Martinez explained. “If she can get through her struggles, we can get through ours.”

Some participants experienced their own difficulties at the parade.

Leonard Godbolt, 63, said he has been driving a garbage truck for Waste Management for 36 years.

But nothing could prepare him for the thrill of his first Gator Growl parade.

“It's a bit overwhelming!” Godbolt exclaimed, peering at the lines of floats and loud noises surrounding him.

- Zack Peterson

Have fun defending the castle

(12:48 p.m.) Thieves Guilde Gators will be defending their castle float against the Vanderbuilt Commodores who are trying to seize it while the theater troupe makes its way down the parade route today.

The volunteer, not-for-profit troupe has prepared staged fights against actors dressed in gold and black tabards. Actors will fight with staffs, maces and swords. Te Gators always win.

The actors participating in the parade today will all be performing at the Hoggetown Medieval Faire in 2014. The troupe is dominantly UF students but also includes outliers like a two-year-old wearing chainmail.

UF freshman Brandon Cotter, 19, said the Guilde was a major reason he chose to stay in Gainesville after high school.

"We're all very close," he said. The assistant director of the Guilde told Cotter he might as well rent a room in her home because he is there so often.

The troupe trains with weapons for six weeks before beginning its three months of rehearsal for the fair.

- Amber Swal

Galloping Gators

UF reports two top runners from Gator Gallop, which began at 11:30 a.m.. The first man to finish was Ray Spradlin. The first woman was Sarah Edens.

Missing it now?

WUFT will rebroadcast the parade on Monday, beginning at 12:30 p.m.

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