Float hopes

High schools students become general contractors in search of homecoming float glory
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein, The Press-Tribune
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Robby Crawford took a break from helping decorate his class's homecoming float last week and smiled. In front of him stood a massive, 10-foot tall TV monitor, hooked up to a similarly scaled classic Atari console. It was an impressive reconstruction of retro gaming, complete with a giant, faithfully reproduced Donkey Kong cartridge. And, for Crawford, a junior at Granite Bay High School, it could be good enough to win him and his classmates some kudos they've been waiting a long time for. "This is the first year I think we can be proud of what we've built as a class," said Crawford, whose school went for a video game theme this year. "We're upperclassmen now." Crawford and other Granite Bay High juniors - led by class president Jenna Baffoni - spent the past few weeks turning a mass of wood and some good ideas into what they hoped was homecoming float glory. It's an aim that's involved scores of high school students recently as school spirit filled the air and Roseville and Granite Bay entered homecoming season. Limited only by their creativity - and their versatility with a hammer - local students vied to best each other for class pride bragging rights in homecoming float competitions. The tradition goes back to the turn of the century, but it's hard to pinpoint where; several universities claim to have started the float custom. One theory puts the origin at the University of Missouri, which, in 1911, added a parade to drum up interest after an unpopular location change. Soon after, universities and, later, high schools, picked up on the idea to bring alumni back and kick start school spirit. This year's homecoming season ended last night with football games at Roseville, Woodcreek and Granite Bay. (Oakmont's homecoming game was Sept. 29.) And, while class competition is a big part of it, students have diverse reasons for getting involved: to hang out with friends, to make new ones, or to express their artistic talents before a wide audience. "I'm more into arts and crafts, and I'm into woodworking," first-time float maker and Roseville High School sophomore Shawn Addison said Thursday in front of his class's jungle-themed float. His major contribution? A wooden tiki bar at the head of the sophomores' leafy entry. "It's cool putting something out for the school that will be seen by a lot of people." Casey Colyer, Oakmont senior class president, cited developing friendships as the reason she's been involved in float building her entire high school career. "You get to know a lot of people you don't normally hang out with," she said. A week before her school's game against Union Mine, Colyer's backyard was littered with the paraphernalia of float building - buckets of paint, brushes, plywood scraps, power drills, cardboard - as students applied the finishing touches. This year, seniors were constructing London in miniature - Big Ben, London Bridge, and an iconic British telephone booth were represented - as part of a school-wide international theme. With plenty of space for a flatbed trailer, the site has played host to these scenes before. Colyer's older brother, an Oakmont alum, was also a veteran float builder, so it's no surprise host mom Gail Colyer takes the annual migration of teenagers to her property in stride. "I love it. I love having the kids," she said. "I wish more would do it because they have such a blast." Still, it all adds up to a major undertaking for busy students. Work generally begins after school and continues well into the evening. "Even when I was sick with a 102-degree fever, I still worked on it for 10 hours," Kelly Ertola, Oakmont sophomore class president, said in front of her class's homage to Italy - which included a grape-crushing barrel and gondola. Planning begins weeks before the standard two-week building period. Organizing volunteers, drawing up plans, and purchasing supplies requires some pretty sophisticated leadership skills. "I've just spent hours planning, getting parents to donate, getting food and stuff like that," Granite Bay's Baffoni said. "I live float building right now. There's hardly time for homework." Of course, it's not all work and no play. Paint fights and practical jokes aren't unheard of, students said. "The goof-off factor is very high," admitted Oakmont's Ertola. "It can be hard to get focused once you start going, and all of a sudden someone is like, 'Did you hear who so-and-so's bringing to homecoming?'" But students aren't goofing off when it comes to float secrecy - and security. Although Oakmont's seniors can't remember the last time a saboteur struck, a tradition has developed: night-before sleepovers in front of the float, just in case. "We really need to guard the float because juniors were talking about orange paint balls," Amanda Simons said while painting some of Big Ben's turrets. As it happens, that threat didn't materialize. Last Friday, as each Viking class displayed their handiwork, Casey Colyer and her group were readying for the parade. "It's just really cool to start with nothing and then have this," Colyer said. "It's wonderful - exactly how I pictured it." - Nathan Donato-Weinstein can be reached at