Floating through Baylor’s homecoming parade history

Students join in on the homecoming festivities as part of the parade in 1940. Photo Courtesy of The Baylor Roundup

By Mariah Bennett | Staff Writer

The Baylor homecoming parade is being held at 8 a.m. on Saturday, after it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the parade doesn’t consist of beloved miniature mascots for attendees anymore, the event has remained mostly consistent, with notable pauses related to current events.

Thousands have flocked to witness the floats made by students for generations — including Dallas sophomore and fifth-generation Baylor Bear McKay Harman and his family. Harman said he has attended the parade an estimated five to 10 times, while his grandfather has attended around 40 times.

“The homecoming game is just connecting all our family together,” Harman said. “A way we connect is going to the homecoming parade.”

Dr. Stephen Sloan, director of the Institute for Oral History and creator of the Waco History website and mobile app, said the parade provides an opportunity for alumni to engage with current Baylor life.

“The parade is a way for alumni to engage with student life on campus, which the game doesn’t present that sort of opportunity,” Sloan said.

For most of history, the parade was mainly spearheaded and sponsored by the Baylor Alumni Association, which voted to make the sporadic celebration a consistent event in 1924. Sloan said this leadership has changed throughout the years.

“The university has taken over a lot of the parade, and the Baylor Chamber of Commerce has always had a role in organizing the parade,” Sloan said. “The Alumni Association organized it early on and for most of its history.”

Multiple student organizations, including sororities and fraternities, have also been involved in parade participation. Sloan said an increase in student organizational floats began in the 60s and 70s due to the growing number of student organizations.

One student organization, the NoZe Brotherhood, has been involved in controversial moments throughout the homecoming parade’s history. In 2016, it attached a rug on a truck bumper for its float to represent the university sweeping things “under the rug,” making a comment on the handling of scandal at the time. While its float received some positive feedback, past decisions made by the organization didn’t. In 1978, The Rope falsely published that homecoming had been canceled, causing the NoZe Brotherhood to be banned from campus for a year. The homecoming parade also saw other iconic moments, such as the announcement of Baylor’s bear mascot in 1915 and the return of the parade in 1946, after a three-year hiatus due to World War II.

For years, the parade has reached outside of Baylor into the Waco community. Even in its beginnings, the parade consistently started downtown before making its way to campus. In an audio file from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History, former store owner Gertrude Levison said parade attendees flocked to her store in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

“It was a constant flow of returning people from Baylor who would come in to see their friends,” Levison said.

Even at the 1909 parade, local businesses decorated for the event. Sloan said Waco’s economic dependence on the parade was felt mostly from the ‘60s to the ‘80s and has definitely lessened due to the growth of activities downtown.

Late Health Camp co-founder Jack Schaevitz attended the parade until his retirement in 1989, decorating his business with event pictures. According to Brandice Nelson, author of a Baylor Homecoming Parade article that was published on the Waco History website, the relationship is still pertinent despite Waco’s growth.

“I think Waco’s relationship with the parade is still a relevant relationship,” Nelson said.

Nelson, also a Baylor alumna, said that as an undergraduate student in the 2010s, she noticed an increase in parade floats related to athletics.

“The focus on athletics has exploded,” Nelson said.

Sloan said themes for parade float have shifted year to year, from the popular patriotic floats of the ‘20s to the more floral presentations of the ‘60s. He also said that in the past 30 years, diversity in the parade has increased; in recent years, he has seen floats based on Monopoly, the Gold Rush and even “The Fresh Prince of Baylor.”

“Even the diversity of student life has increased,” Sloan said. “You can sit in one place and see the Baylor experience pass before your eyes as the parade goes along.”

Despite these changes, Sloan said a consistent trait of the parade has been student involvement, even with students’ increasingly busy schedules.

“It’s pretty remarkable that student involvement has continued to be vibrant,” Sloan said. “Students still have the desire to invest hours, time and effort into presenting floats for an event that happens one morning out of the year.”