Special to Mustang News |
By Geovanni Ximénez-García

They did it again

Cal Poly Rose Float team wins award for “Most Beautiful Non-Commercial Float” yet again. 

Cal Poly Rose Float’s 2016 “Sweet Shenanigans” float | Photo courtesy of  Brent Hollinger

The Cal Poly Rose Float team’s “Sweet Shenanigans” float won the Lathrop K. Leishman trophy for most beautiful non-commercial float at this year’s New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena. This is the second year in the row they’ve won this award.

John Catalano, the Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float program lead, was elated but surprised to receive the award.

“I wasn’t expecting that one, but I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll take it; it’s a great award,” Catalano said.

Though the team was happy to receive the award, the path to Pasadena was anything but easy — it never is.

The teams put in a large amount of work before seeing its float march in line with the others.

The road to Pasadena: A behind the scenes look at the Cal Poly Rose Float program

The first Rose Parade float built by California Polytechnic students was back in 1949. It was put together by a team from Cal Poly’s then-satellite campus in Pomona, California. They were given a $258 budget.

Since then, the two schools have teamed up to create 68 floats with themes ranging from “To the Rescue” to “Tuxedo Air.”

Cal Poly Rose Float’s 2013 “Tuxedo Air” float | Courtesy, Cal Poly Pomona University Library Special Collections

Over the past few decades, the two universities have received 46 different awards for theme, animation, humor, decoration and viewers’ choice. Last year, the universities earned the Lathrop K. Leishman Trophy for the most beautiful non-commercial float for their 2015 submission “Soaring Stories” that included a castle and a flying griffin.

Cal Poly Rose Float’s 2015 “Soaring Stories” float | Courtesy, Cal Poly Pomona University Library Special Collections

When this year’s float rolled down the 5.5-mile route in Pasadena, many came to watch.

But there was a long road to travel before getting to Pasadena, a road filled with constructing, designing and overall hard work between the two Cal Poly campuses.

Catalano knows this trek best.

Video by Kendall Hober

Beginning the journey: Deciding on float concept and design

With the new year comes the beginning of a new float for the Cal Poly teams.

Timeline graphics by Celina Oseguera and Domenica Berman

After receiving the overall float theme from the Tournament of Roses president in January, the Cal Poly universities choose the design concept for their float through a concept contest that is open to the public. The contest winner receives either two tickets to the Rose Bowl Game or $500. Last year, they received approximately 200 submissions, Cal Poly Rose Float program lead Ian Davison said.

The leadership teams from both universities get together to narrow down and rank the submissions to their top five choices. They then send them to the Tournament of Roses for a “draft-style lottery.” After they are approved, they can begin working on the float.

Continuing on the road: Building the float

The concept the universities chose for this year’s float was “Sweet Shenanigans” to illustrate the Rose Parade’s theme “Finding Your Adventure.”

Catalano said this float was a change from last year’s, which had a more serious theme.

“This float, ‘Sweet Shenanigans,’ is gummy bears playing in a winter wonderland enjoying the fun times,” Catalano said. “It’s a more whimsical, playful, cartoonish float. This theme is kind of what Cal Poly is known for. You look at this and you just want to smile because it’s so cute.”

The construction of the float usually takes most of spring, summer and fall. Both teams work mostly on their own campuses until they join their halves of the float in mid-October in Pomona.

Since they began participating in the competition, the Cal Poly universities have spearheaded the integration of technology within their floats, including the first use of hydraulics for movement, front wheel drive and propane for cleaner emissions, according to the Robert E. Kennedy Library’s University Archives.

“One thing Cal Poly universities is known for in the float world is that we are innovators. We aren’t scared to go out and try something. We’re responsible for a lot of new things that a lot of rose float builders use.”  — John Catalano, Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float program lead

And this year, the innovations kept on coming.

The “Sweet Shenanigans” float included another first for the parade — gummy bears launching a snow ball across the float. It was new to have a projectile launch out and recycle through the float, Catalano said.

The 2016 float also included a skating gummy bear, giant lollipops, ice cream cones and more.

The “Sweet Shenanigans” concept drawing | Photo courtesy of  Cal Poly Rose Float


Davison said this project was the embodiment of Learn by Doing.

“We have many, many technical disciplines involved in the construction of the float and that is literally the etymology of polytechnic,” Davison said. “It should be the poster child program for Cal Poly because of the Learn by Doing aspects and its interdisciplinary nature.”

One of those Learn by Doing aspects is building a professional-level float with a team of students, Cal Poly Rose Float decorations chair Cecilia Allor said.

“We’re building this float from the ground up and there’s not really any involvement from staff or other people. It is all designed, decorated and planned by students. We’re the only college that does anything like this,” Allor said.


Photo courtesy of  Brent Hollinger

One of the Cal Poly Rose Float Program’s biggest donations is for the fresh flowers that cover the float. The tournament requires that all visible parts of the float must be covered in organic materials, including but not limited to fresh flowers, dried flowers, tree bark, vegetables and plants. This year, a large amount of those flowers were donated by the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC), Catalano said.

The CCFC is an organization that partners with flower farmers throughout California. It works with the Cal Poly universities and coordinates the donation of fresh flowers to the universities’ float.

“We work with the CCFC to communicate with the growers and they donate all of our fresh flowers each year, which is amazing. In return, we get a California grown certification,” Allor said.

In order to be certified as California grown a float must source a minimum of 85 percent of flowers grown in the state. Cal Poly Universities’ float was the first to be certified as “California grown” five years ago and has been certified each year since. This year, theirs was one of four floats in the parade to receive that recognition.

Cal Poly Rose Float adviser Josh D’Acquisto said the parade was started as a way for California to show that flowers could be grown in the state year round. However, most of the roses used in the parade today come from Central and South America. He said that supporting California farms is important to the Cal Poly Rose Float.

“It’s important for two California agricultural universities to align themselves with the California-grown movement and in-state agriculture,” D’Acquisto said.

Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float program’s decorations chair Anh Nghiem and Allor met to discuss what organic materials they would use to cover the visible parts of the float. Selecting the right material is important because the audience will understand what the different components of the float are, Nghiem said.

“We have to keep in mind to match the color and texture because we have about 3-5 seconds of the audience’s full attention on parade day. So we try our best to make it as simple and straightforward as we can so they can enjoy the float, too.”   — Anh Nghiem, Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float program’s decorations chair 

The float for 2016 included a variety of fresh flowers such as roses, daisies, and mums. It also included other materials such as seaweed, statice, and almond bark. Students from both universities — along with more than 1,000 volunteers — added these materials onto the float during decoration week in late December to get it ready to be shown at the Rose Parade.

Photo courtesy of  Brent Hollinger

Driving from two directions: The dynamic between the Cal Poly teams

Ian Davison (left) and John Catalano (right) in front of the 2016 float. | Photo courtesy of  Brent Hollinger

The Cal Poly Rose Float program is one of the key programs that continues to connect both Cal Poly universities, D’Acquisto said.

There are approximately 50 students from both campuses that have committed to the 12-month role with Rose Float, he said. Each campus has a program lead, assistant program lead and three chairs for the float — design, construction and decorations. Though the students in leadership positions communicate often with the corresponding student at the other university, there are some challenges that arise.

“It’s a communication challenge because they are 300 miles away and we don’t see them for half the year. The biggest challenge is communication, making sure that they know what we know and that our plans coincide with their plans and that we’re lined up for the same goal,” Davison said.

Cal Poly’s budget for this year was $103,000. It receives funding for being an Instructional Related Activity (IRA) and is managed through Student Affairs, D’Acquisto said. Cal Poly Pomona had a similar budget through the university. The two universities shared the resources and donations they receive when they came together in the fall.

The end of the road

Watching the float in the parade at Pasadena can be an emotional event for the entire Cal Poly Rose Float team.

“I started crying — half of it was from sleep exhaustion,” Allor said of last year’s Rose Parade. “It’s amazing, just everything you’ve worked for the whole year. Everyone is screaming their heads off, they’re so excited. There’s no way to describe it, you have to be a part of it. It’s like your baby coming down those parade routes.”

This year was just as celebratory.

Photo courtesy of  Brent Hollinger

“I don’t think there’s a much better feeling than to have something you’ve spent the whole year in, poured your blood, sweat and tears into with 50 other people. It’s just incredible to see all their work accumulate into a great project for the world to see.”   — John Catalano, Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float program lead

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *