Ryan Chartrand

Since 1949, students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona have come together to produce a floral float for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.

In a yearlong process, each campus devotes itself to constructing one half of the float. Joint decisions are made on how the float is designed, built, animated and decorated.

“Our organization encourages anyone to come and see where they’d like to fit in to the development and design of the float,” said Rose Float program leader Chrystal Tipping.

Cal Poly students have been building Rose Floats for more than 50 years and have won more than 40 awards, including princess trophies for best display of animation, founder’s trophies for most outstanding self-decorated float, humor trophies and theme prizes.

Once all the parts are fitted and the final assembly is finished, the float will be one of the few in the parade that was not built by a professional float builder and the only one built by students.

“The Rose Float’s purpose is to showcase to the world the talents and skills of both Cal Poly universities,” design leader Shawna Swanson said.

The average preparation for the Rose Float tends to be underestimated by a lot of people and no one realizes that it takes a whole year to complete the process from start to finish, Tipping said.

The first step is to choose the theme, which is announced each January for the year to come. Afterward, both Cal Poly campuses open their concept contest, in which anyone can submit an idea for the next float that fits within the new theme.

The winners with the chosen concept are awarded two tickets to the Rose Bowl game and four tickets to the parade, or $1,000 cash. This year’s Rose Parade theme is “Passport to the World’s Celebration” and Cal Poly’s float is titled “Guardians of Harmony.”

A float’s lifespan is around 13 months, all of which starts as an idea the minute the previous parade ends, Tipping said.

“After the parade is over, we go into deconstruction,” decorations chair Kate Smith said. “Then we hold a concept contest for the next float when the parade theme is announced. Once we decide on a concept, we have a large meeting with Pomona to discuss which half each of us will build and what major items we want included.”

The float-making process is normally split into three general categories: design, decorations and construction. After the joint meetings, where the top concept is chosen for submission into the tournament in February, the group makes general changes and decisions about the concept’s design.

“During the fall quarter, we move our half of the float down to Pomona where we connect the two pieces together,” Smith said. “Each weekend, loyal members carpool to Pomona to work on the float. Once school is finished, many San Luis students move in to the Pomona dorms for design week. It’s a lot of work.”

Together, the teams have to create a float of about 16 feet 6 inches so it can fit under bridges and clear power lines.

“Because of that, we construct mechanisms so the floats can tower over the streets and spectators,” Tipping said. “This year our ‘over height mechanism’ will put the Phoenix at 22 feet in the air.”

Over the years, tournament mechanics have had to add rules to their list of requirements because of instances from Cal Poly. The famous example, as Tipping tells it, is that water cannot be projected from the float to the spectators.

This year will mark the 119th Rose Parade, the 94th Rose Bowl Football game and Cal Poly’s 60th consecutive entry in the parade. The parade is on Jan. 1, 2008.

The Cal Poly Rose Float used to be a club within the school’s campus until it became so popular that it is now currently an ASI program allowing students to design, build and decorate a float.

“Rose Float offers students the chance to express their creative talents while representing Cal Poly in a long-standing university tradition,” Tipping said. “Students decide on an original float creation and manage the entire project. From design and mechanics to construction and decoration, Rose Float is a hands-on experience for student volunteers.”

“It is easy to become a part of the Rose Float because there are all sorts of jobs to be done,” Smith said. “All skills and majors are welcome. We have a big meeting every quarter and since the program is year-round, there is no deadline.”

The Cal Poly team is currently accepting reservations for the upcoming week of decoration from groups of ten or more volunteers.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Smith said. “The feeling of watching our finished float drive around the corner of Colorado Boulevard makes it worth all the hard work.”

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