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The Homecoming Sweep

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There is little written evidence of one of the most remarkable winning streaks in all of high school. I had the privilege of graduating with a class that won every homecoming float competition of my four year stretch in high school. How was it  that a lowly freshman class overcame obstacles and various sorts of legalities to win? And then to continue the streak in the face of facultative animosity warrants more than a  mention in the district’s school board minutes.

The football season coincided with a adolescent rut that a majority of my  classmates suffered during the days before CD’s and unleaded fuel. With the new class year came new shapes and interests for ninth graders. Middle school teachers will say that in today’s classrooms, they see it in 8th and even 7th grades. The CO2 from the constant chatter and small talk may explain the increase in global darkening this time of year.  Whatever the case, “A chance to impress was a chance,” we all felt, so when it came time for a pride filled activity like homecoming, volunteers were never a problem. Staying focused was the problem.  

An all-school meeting was called and the rules laid out by the homecoming committee. The float must be part of the homecoming theme, can’t cost more than $35, no animals, alive or dead permitted, must be cleaned up by the class and inspections can be anytime.

The rules, or lack thereof, allowed the natural talents of my classmates to blossom and in some cases, metastasize. Our first order of business was to establish a spy network on the other class floats. Any classmate dating an upper class student was not to be trusted, but in this case, it was a perfect cover. Carol, a cheerleader, was given the job. We assigned another to keep tabs on her, just to be safe.
Second was design. Mark and Steve were the right fit for this. We could all read their handwriting and they proved they could draw in art and blue print classes.

Third was materials acquisition. This for some reason drew the most interest. Guys with access to pick up trucks or tractors were an automatic. Those with rap sheets were also welcome. A materials list was started and cost itemizations attached as the $35 was spent. The cost sheet as usually disregarded by the end of the first week, safely well below the limit and put away for ready access during inspections.

Homecoming day arrived and all our chickenwire napkin stuffing paid off. Despite accusations of gross overspending and sabotage, our float triumphed.  For the following week, conversations in the teacher’s lounge regarding the legitimacy of our win were less than positive.

Our sophomore year we had more volunteers than we could handle, as evidenced by the sheriffs report regarding noise and brutish behavior. The continued scrutiny by school administrators forced some of the float fabrication off shore, well, out of town anyway. We managed a win before the reports of material larceny from the lumber yard hit our local paper.

As juniors, we had been talking about a four-year sweep and needed a sure-fire winner.  We produced a self-propelled float of such design and grandeur that it has since been codified into county and village ordinances. There was subsequent school board documentation clearly prohibiting the building and use of self-propelled floats – adding weight to the claim that our achievement will never be outdone.

Our design was simple enough, the gimmick was that the float, a giant boot stomping on our opponent, was self-propelled. The front wheels of a garden tractor were removed and the axles mounted to the rear of a hay wagon. The wagon’s  tongue was replaced with wire cables that ran to a steering device.  Of course the operator of the tractor could not see, so a relay system was put into place. A navigator up front, but under the wagon bed, called back to the pilot, in front of the noisy tractor and driver, the pilot signaled a thumbs up for more speed, down for brakes.  A simple set of directions for a simple plan.

The monster boot ‘floated’ along by itself, causing the crowds along the parade route to “ohh” and “ahhh” as it gathered speed on the downgrade. Complications set in as the first street corner was negotiated.  When the thumb sign to brake began frantically jerking down, our dutiful driver hit the clutch and brakes.

The wagon, now carrying more weight then ever, did not respond as well as the garden tractor, causing a near complete separation. At this point, the boot was now underway at a good rate of speed, unstoppable and uncontrollable. A combination the few spectators along the street were slow in appreciating.

The boot bee-lined to the curb, lined with parked cars. “Turn right, slow down, turn right, slow down came the staccato orders from the moles nest up front. The pilot signaled, each gesture getting bigger and faster than before. The driver, now a rider in distress, turned off the motor and abandoned ship, scooting out from under the napkin flowered skirt just as the float angled into a brand new parked car. There was a high pitched screech and then the distinctive sound of folding metal. The crowd gasped and was silent. The float was grounded within 100 yards of the ball field.  The only sound we could hear was the PA announcing the pregame show.

Since most of our classmates cars and trucks had trailer hitches, it wasn’t hard to get hooked up within minutes of the crash. Parade watchers helped push the float from the crumpled sedan.  If it weren’t for  the witnesses, who knows what would have happened. The judges had already inspected all the floats and voted prior to our ‘run.’ They were enjoying the football game and were unaware the float they picked to win had just kicked the newness out of an innocent car.

At half time, the announcement came over the PA that our class had won. Oh, sure, we had our share of teachers wondering how an investment of $35 could turn into a half-ton hiking boot, but the accusations seemed to moderate by the end of the football season.

We started early for our senior year homecoming. Plans were drawn and strategy meetings held during the summer. By October, our float crew was now a well seasoned band of scavengers and artful dodgers. Our minister of propaganda kept the other classes off balance as to what we were doing and we had prefabricated a number of accessories for our float during the summer.  We were confident and felt we had a shot at making school history.

Our three masted sailing ship was a thing of beauty and won easily. As luck would have it, I was the escort to the homecoming queen. That didn’t make me king, but I felt like it, riding and waving from the white over blue ’68 GTO convertible. Of course, a king would not be wearing his sister’s bell bottom pants. They were a perfect match to my corduroy sport coat, and my older sister, home from college, didn’t know until halftime is was me and not my twin sister that had borrowed them.

At the homecoming dance in the main gym, the queen and I danced to 45 rpm records on squeaky sawdust, feeling pretty cool. As we left the basketball court, coach H. complimented the queen on her beauty and me on my stylish attire.

It was a memorable night. We were dancing beneath our class’ masterpiece, yet the school advisors and chaperones were unaware of it. The motley crew of our winning float had cast off the confines of the haywagon and ‘sailed’ her onto the gym’s roof shortly after the football game. It was the final, and also outlawed, act of our homecoming sweep.

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