Homecoming floats part of WHS legacy

Published 3:27 pm Friday, October 6, 2017

Milton Dail surveys a small group of Washington High School freshmen hard at work on homecoming parade props and nods with satisfaction.

Such projects are part and parcel of the school’s legacy of building floats to be featured, along with school club entries and members of the queen’s court, in the WHS homecoming parade through the streets of downtown Washington.

This year’s parade was held Friday afternoon, capping three evenings of industrious float building at the Shrine Club adjacent to the high school.

“They learn how to work together,” Dail said of the students. “They learn their leadership roles and how to be part of a group.”

As a member of the WHS class of 2001, Dail is well-schooled in the art of designing and building homecoming floats. He worked on such projects all four years in high school and now he serves as lead adviser for the freshman class.

“It’s a longstanding tradition here at Washington High School,” Dail noted. “I know my parents did it when they were here in the 1970s.”

Dail’s WHS colleague Mila Marsh is in the same boat; as a 2008 WHS graduate she also worked on her class floats every year. She now serves as lead adviser for the junior class.

“They learn about our school traditions,” Marsh pointed out. “I think this gives them pride in their school and in their community. The community always looks forward to the parade.”

This year’s participants are a spirited, hard-working bunch. Instead of lounging around after school during homecoming week, they spend hours painting props, dyeing fabric and assembling floats.

“It’s great because you get to hang out with everyone and do something creative,” said Hailey Respess, who has designed and built homecoming floats her freshman, sophomore and senior years.

After meeting with the class adviser, the class of 2018 settled on the theme “Charge ‘Em Up” for the last-hurrah parade entry. School spirit is great but there’s also more than a smidgen of bragging rights involved, confided senior Kimberly Macias.

“It’s a competition to see who has the best float,” she said.

SOPHOMORES: Admiring a faux horse head, a main prop for the class of 2020 homecoming float, are (from left) Cameryn Hales, Kevin Gobellan, Mason Horton, Evie Johnson and Emma Rice.

Junior Sam Martin said his class float follows the theme, “Unplug the Chargers,” a dig at Washington High’s homecoming opponents, the Ayden-Grifton High School Chargers, who played the Pam Pack Friday evening.

“We’re doing a giant plug and electrical outlet, and we’re unplugging a person on a rocking horse,” Martin confided earlier this week.

“Roast the Chargers” was the theme decided upon by the class of 2020, according to sophomore Kevin Gobellan.

“We’re having two field goals with a horse roasting over a fire,” Gobellan said with a smile.

This was his first year working on a homecoming team, and his reason for getting involved was two-fold.

“I wanted to show school spirit, and I wanted to help improve the floats,” Gobellan said.

Newbies in the homecoming tradition were this year’s members of the freshman class, but they had no trouble coming up with a unique theme.

“I thought this would be a fun thing to do with my friends, and we kind of played off each other’s ideas,” said Emma Waters. “We picked a Pac-Man theme and ‘Chomp the Chargers.'”

“Old-timers” from Washington High School, among them Stuart O’Neal, are happy to see the school’s homecoming traditions continue. The float building, parade and football games are all part of the Pam Pack legacy, he noted. Even though he doesn’t recall his class winning first place, homecoming is one of his fondest memories from high school.

“It’s kind of a rite of passage that every WHS student needs to be involved with,” said O’Neal, who manned the float team every year. “My class seemed to specialize in Stunt Night; floats were not our gig but we enjoyed it. Freshman year we met every afternoon at the Shrine Club. I wish I could tell you what school we played, but I do know they were the Falcons, so our float was ‘Fry the Falcons.'”

But the best float O’Neal can recall was one from the early 1990s, when his older sister was a WHS student. That design, as it turns out, shows how times have changed. Washington was playing Tarboro that year, so one group of students settled on the theme, “Smoke Tarboro Like a Marlboro,” complete with a giant cigarette and WHS lighter.

Allison Edwards Crisp, a 1981 graduate of Washington High School, also has fond memories of her homecoming experiences, which included four years building floats and a year on the homecoming queen’s court.

“It was a big time for us; it was a great time for coming together as a class,” Crisp recalled.

In those days, classes were scattered at locations all over town to keep float themes from becoming public before the day of the parade.

“It was fun keeping the secret of what your theme would be, but yet trying to find out what the other themes were,” Crisp added with a laugh.

The extra work on top of full days of school didn’t curb the students’ enthusiasm for their homecoming float chores either.

“You didn’t mind the long hours,” Crisp said. “It was a time for bringing your class together.”