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Organizing a Homecoming Parade



Colorful floats, marching bands, clowns and balloons… what’s not to love about a parade?  If you are the student leader or adviser charged with organizing the parade, making sure all those elements come together in a smoothly functioning parade might generate some other feelings—anxiety and frustration among them. Rise to the challenge and reduce your stress by following these tips:


  • Plan the parade route. What route will the parade take? With a well-established parade, the route might be a given, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to evaluate if the same old route is the best one. How can you maximize the number of people who will see the parade while minimizing the disruption to the community?

  • Do the paperwork. Once you have a proposed route, apply for a local parade permit with whatever department of city government handles that where you live. You will also want to contact the police department to arrange for a police escort for the parade. Don’t forget to make sure the parade is approved by school administrators, too.

  • Develop guidelines for entry. Who do you want to have in the parade, and what guidelines will govern their participation? Class and club floats or decorated cars/trucks are a staple of most Homecoming parades. Do you also plan to allow candidates for local and state elections enter the parade? What about local businesses or service organizations? Can students drive entries or must they be driven by an adult?

  • Decide who will be allowed to participate so when a group calls asking to be part of the parade you will know what to tell them. Develop an entry form for interested groups to turn in so you know who is planning to participate and put it on your school’s website. Set a registration deadline for entering.

  • Establish float-building guidelines. Especially for school groups building floats, set some guidelines for when they can begin building the float, how much they can spend on materials, penalties for vandalizing other floats, and so forth. If you don’t have a place on school grounds where all floats can be built under supervision and kept under security—perhaps a bus warehouse—establish safety rules for off-site construction. For example, require that float building must be done with the class/club adviser or a parent present.

  • For all entries, set a limit on how big and how tall the float can be—you don’t want to have the parade held up at some point by a float that is too tall to pass under electrical wires that might cross the parade route. In addition, include instructions about safe distribution of candy or other handouts along the parade route, e.g., don’t throw the candy, hand it out. Give instructions about how and where floats should be dismantled—designate a dumpster they can be thrown into or ask that parts of floats be recycled or saved to use for dance decorations.

  • Determine judging criteria. If a class competition is part of your spirit week, determine what criteria will be used to judge the floats. To increase participation, establish different divisions for the competition such as classes, clubs, and community entries and award first, second, and third place in each division. Create a rubric and distribute it along with the float-building guidelines so everyone will know how the floats will be judged.

  • Select a theme. A theme is a unifying element for a parade. Select one that is broad enough for a variety of entries. To avoid duplication of entries, you might want to have each group register what they are doing on a first-come-first-reserved basis.

  • Invite participants. All your work organizing to this point won’t be worth much if you don’t have parade entries, so start getting the word out to various groups that might want to participate. Be sure to invite:

    • All grade level groups: Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors

    • All school clubs and organizations

    • The marching band and flags

    • The spirit groups: cheerleaders, pep club, drill team

    • Homecoming court (have them get their own cars, drivers, and decorations)

    • Local fire station

    • Local civic organizations

    • Superintendant and school board members

  • Select a grand marshal. Honor someone who is important to the school or community by selecting them as grand marshal to ride in a convertible at the head of the parade.

  • Plan the parade lineup. Once all entries for the parade have been received, plan how you will line everyone up. Vary the entries so that the floats and other big entries like the fire truck are spread out in the lineup, with smaller entries and walking groups interspersed. Create a numbered list and designate a staging area where you can line entries up in order by number. For the day of the parade, have someone from each entry check in to receive their number. They then look for where the number is in the line and get their group or float to that spot.

  • Find judges for the competition. Find some volunteers who will serve as judges for the float competition. These should be impartial—so definitely not the class advisers! Good choices for people to ask include central office personnel, teachers, school board members, and so forth. Select an odd number of judges to avoid having ties.

  • Develop judging score sheet. Create a rubric with criteria for judging the floats and make enough copies for all the judges.  Collect clipboards for the judges to use while observing the parade.

  • Carry out pre-parade publicity. Send a media release to local newspapers and websites and post information about the parade on your school website. Consider sending a flier home with students of your feeder schools. Contact local merchants or houses along the parade route and let them know about the parade’s time and route. Thank them in advance for their patience with the disruption and support of the school.

  • Make signs and banners. Create a large banner with the Homecoming theme that will lead the parade and designate which members of your organization will walk along with the banner. Be sure to make signs for the cars of invited guests such as the grand marshal and school board members.

  • Get ready to roll. For the day of the parade, be sure to have plenty of helpers to get entries in lineup order and help with the myriad of tasks that will crop up. Then, relax and enjoy the fun. With all the details taken care of, what’s not to like about a parade?


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