About 60 floats filled with parade participants gathered in the parking lots west of North Palm and Maple drives prior to the start of USF’s Homecoming parade Friday.
Minutes after 7 p.m., a line of lights, music and colorful decorations came to life as the procession in front of the Fine Arts buildings began to travel along Holly Drive in view of the audience lining the streets.
Many faculty and student leaders were on campus preparing for the day as early as 6 a.m.
Parade floats ranged in size and showiness, from a couple of students and a driver throwing candy to a car decorated with 100 balloons.
Some undergraduate students wearing medical scrubs performed a multi-story, life-size diorama on another float.
About a dozen students danced to salsa and reggae beats atop a blue-and-red, two-story float lined with miniature flags from Spanish-speaking countries.
“The theme is pretty much Latin unity,” said Victor Velasco, president of Lambda Theta Phi.
Velasco said his fraternity worked with the Latin American Student Association, Mexican American Student Association and Sigma Lambda Beta to make a collaborative float that represented all three organizations.
“Even though some of us might be Puerto Rican, some of us might be Cuban (or) Mexican, we’re still united,” Velasco said.
Most student organizations teamed up with one or two others to help bear the cost and manpower necessary to produce a float for the parade competition.
Men dressed in cheerleading bloomers and shirtless fraternity officers in full body paint and glitter offered new takes on old school spirit themes.
Blake Rus, president of Sigma Chi fraternity, danced around a traveling boxing ring in shorts, yellow paint and horns, pretending to fight a blue-caped version of Pittsburgh’s panther mascot.
“(The idea) was a combination … of our organizations together,” Rus said. “I hope we get (the) best float (award) because we’ve been working on it for over three weeks.”
A pack of students wearing almost as little as Rus donned helmets and crept alongside their group’s truck in the 60-degree weather.
Tampa resident David Hicks said he and his family enjoyed the procession. Hicks and his wife set up lawn chairs and a playpen on the corner of Holly and Maple to watch with their 18-month-old daughter as their two elementary age children participated in the USF Student Credit Union float.
“We’re here every year because we just like USF and what they do for the community,” Hicks said.
The parade trickled past residence halls, down Maple and ended on Alumni Drive. Students then began moving toward Fowler Field by 8:30 p.m. for the Ludacris concert.
University Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Klingebiel said 22 officers worked the events Friday night. After Rocky the Bull’s grand helicopter entrance in the middle of the Fowler Field cleared without any problems, Klingebiel said UP’s main concern was ensuring the safety of the crowds when the bonfire started and keeping noise complaints from the surrounding community to a minimum once Ludacris went on stage.
It was the first year partygoers were screened by metal detectors, he said.
By 9:30, scores of people were still waiting to get in, and the fire marshal announced the bonfire was canceled because of high winds.
Minutes after the first lighting of the bonfire failed, hopeful party guests Charles Lincoln and Casey Cowsh were still waiting on the wrong side of the fence.
“Last year, it was a lot of fun,” Cowsh said. “We got in easily, we had a lot of fun, and everything went smoothly. This year, (I) think so many people turn away and leave because they don’t want to stand in this line.”
Lincoln said he graduated from a school with 200 years of tradition and saw USF trying to create something similar.
“I want to see USF build the same thing,” Lincoln said. “(But) I don’t think this is the right way to do it.”