Story and photographs by: Emma Sims and Alyssa Perry
The men from USF’s Sigma Nu fraternity had a powdery layer of sawdust on their glasses. It was nearing midnight Wednesday. The clouds of fine dust battled for space in the already anxious air that filled the fraternity house backyard.
There were two days until the USF Homecoming parade, and the team of two Greek chapters, Sigma Nu and Delta Delta Delta, had just started building their float. They were behind schedule and running out of time. And to add more spice to the Crock-Pot of confusion, they did not have a theme for their float.
The team planed on decorating their trailer with a “Peter Pan” theme – at first.
“We have a problem. Gamma Phi Beta is already doing “Peter Pan” as their theme,” Delta’s activities director Nicole Harris said. “We can’t do it now, it’ll look like we copied them.”
“Maybe they copied us,” Sigma’s activity director John Lemmer said.
“We need a new theme, like now. Does anyone have an idea?” Harris asked the crew of six.
“What about “The Little Mermaid?’” Jill Bowen said.
The three Sigma Nu brothers were not impressed. Their childhood movie repertoire likely did not include the singing redheaded mermaid. The men wanted to stick with “Peter Pan,” but the women had already started singing Ariel’s ballad, “A Part of Your World.” The battle was lost as soon as it began.
“I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20. But who cares? No big deal. I want more,” the group of Deltas belted to their confused audience.
“OK stop. This isn’t “High School Musical,’” Jordan Moore said.
“We don’t have any more time to talk about it,” Lemmer said.
And so, “The Little Mermaid” it was.
USF’s 2014 homecoming theme was “Once Upon a Homecoming.” The campus celebrations culminated with the Running with the Bulls Night Parade Friday night, comprised of floats and participants from various organizations, including Greek teams. Floats were judged for first, second and third place. There were four categories in the judging criteria: originality and creativity, theme, design and construction and, of course, green and gold spirit. The deadline for float construction was 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10.
The Running with the Bulls Night Parade took place at 7 p.m. Friday. Professional and homemade floats participated in the contest. The winner would be announced later that night at the Homecoming After-Party.
Fraternities and sororities at USF paired up for the homecoming week events. Each Greek team had a committee of 20 participants, with 10 from each fraternal organization. The participating few were expected to take part in the homecoming responsibilities, which included building the float.
Float construction was not limited to the homecoming committee. Any of the organization’s members could help, but finding available students proved to be a project in itself.
“It’s really hard to find people who will help. It’s a really ridiculous time commitment for the week,” Harris said. “That’s hard when people have class at night and jobs.”
Wednesday night’s float crew included only six workers – three sorority sisters and three fraternity brothers. The Sigma men were working until 1 a.m. Thursday, building a pirate ship on their trailer.
“Girls can’t exactly handle power tools,” Harris said.
Once the float construction was assembled, the women joined the men to help improve the aesthetics. Friday afternoon was spent working collaboratively to meet the float competition’s criteria.
Harris was trying to round up the focus of her workers. She needed to make a trip to the Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store for some last minute supplies.
They had three hours left.
“OK, so we need spray paint, plastic swords, candy, bubbles, fabric and hats. What else?” Harris said.
“Girls, who wants to be the Rose to my Jack?” Moore asked.
Harris rolled her eyes.
“This isn’t “Titanic”, Jordan. It’s “The Little Mermaid,” Harris said.
On the house’s back deck, Jack, Bowen’s four-month-old Golden Retriever, yelped and whined. Perhaps his distress stemmed from the cone of shame around his perky head (a result of his recent neutering procedure), or perhaps he was warning the students that they were running out of time.
Jack was politely ignored. The team was busy bantering about what to buy at the craft store.
“What about confetti poppers?” Lemmer asked.
“No,” Harris said. “We’re not doing that.”
“I’m the king of the world!” Medlin shouted from the pirate ship’s platform as he gripped the ship’s wheel.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
Homecoming week was packed with events.
Every day, except Wednesday, had a game in which the Greek teams were expected to compete. Various other events accompanied the games, including a weeklong blood drive, a soda can tab donation and the construction of a USF Spirit sculpture. These events were ongoing, and teams were given sign-in points for each event in which a member participated.
“It’s just kind of a lot,” Harris said.
Although the homecoming week consists largely of competitions, teams remain friendly with one another.
“It’s nothing dramatic,” elementary education major and Gamma Phi Beta sorority member Amanda Carlton said. “You get to bond with someone you wouldn’t normally work with.”
At the end of homecoming week, points were tallied and winners were announced. The categories included overall placement and individual competition placements.
“Sigma Nu is really good at intramurals,” finance major and Gamma Phi sister, Shelby Fouts-Harley said.
Lemmer said their team, The Fuzzy Wombats, spent around $450 on their “Little Mermaid” float, which was entirely homemade. Essential materials included large particleboards, gallons of green paint and fabric for decorations and costumes.
“We put a lot of work into it, so at this point we want to win,” Harris said. “It’d be awesome if we did, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The staging area on Holly Drive was buzzing with school spirit.
The gold dresses of the Sun Dolls sparkled in the setting sun as the Herd of Thunder band tapped on their snares. Professional floats boasted bright paint jobs, permanent props and loud music. The homemade floats were waiting next to their manufactured competitors. Everyone was gearing up to go.
The parade was in an hour.
The Wombat’s float was hooked up to the trailer-hitch on Bowen’s white Chevrolet truck. A Sigma Nu flag flapped proudly from a pipe on the ship’s bow. There were two fishnets draped on the sides of the 10-foot-tall trailer construction, named “The S.S. Fuzzy Wombats.”
The team’s creation met all the required competition criteria: it was original, it fit USF’s fairy tale theme, the construction was sturdy and it was decked out in all green and gold paint. There was only one component missing from the team’s float – the members of the Fuzzy Wombats. No one accompanied the float.
There was 15 minutes to show time.
The sidewalks on Holly and Maple Drive were peppered with an audience of students, alumni and everyone in-between.
The parade was rolling along the road covered in Laffy Taffy and cheap strings of beads. Children leapt for their lives to catch the flying treats.
The party music and cheers of “Go Bulls” filled the air with school spirit.
It was 8 p.m. and the parade was almost over.
Then, around the corner cruised “The Little Mermaid” crew. The Delta women and Sigma men were cheering and grinning.
“The S.S. Fuzzy Wombats” made it after all. Their float was not the best looking one, but it was there. And for that, they were proud.