Dozens of Cal Poly students spent last week in a state of “organized chaos” while preparing for the 123rd annual Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif.
With the largest number of students working on the project in recent history, 37 Cal Poly Rose Float team members worked from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2 in what they call “deco week.”
Deco — short for decoration — week took 14 to 20 hours of work every day for the team members. They worked with and managed hundreds of volunteers who turned out to support the Tournament of Roses. The students coordinated volunteers who placed thousands of flowers and other organic material on the float.
“It is chaos,” Cal Poly alumnus and Rose Float adviser Nicolas Hellewell said. “It is as organized as chaos can be.”
The float, a Cal Poly tradition for more than 60 years, has seen its ups and downs since students made the inaugural float in 1949. This year, the float was titled “To the Rescue.” It portrayed a city protected by superheroes from potential disasters.
Team member and mechanical engineering junior Joe Marcinkowski said the project has had anywhere from eight to 200 students working on it every year since the 1980s. It has, however, been gaining membership in recent years.
“Word’s getting out there that it’s a cool program,” Marcinkowski said. “It’s really a unique opportunity for students on campus.”
Marcinkowski, who has worked on the program since he was a freshman, was the construction chair of the float. He did much of the construction at Cal Poly Pomona.
The Cal Poly Rose Float team is one of the last remnants of the university’s once strong relationship with Cal Poly Pomona. The two schools worked together throughout the project, with the majority of construction being completed in Pomona, Calif.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students were charged with creating the back half of the float, while Cal Poly Pomona students made the front half. Throughout the construction process, different parts from San Luis Obispo were driven to Pomona. Then, on Dec. 20, students drove the finished float from Pomona to Pasadena with a police escort.
Once the float was secured in a tent in Pasadena, the students retired for five days on holiday break. But come Dec. 26, they were back in Pasadena, ready for deco week. Decoration chair and mechanical engineering sophomore Paulina Trujillo said she’s still recovering from it.
“It was crazy — I lost my voice,” Trujillo said. “You have to realize if you don’t get it done, it’s not going down the parade.
Trujillo said a range of emotions were on display during the week leading up to the parade. The team was set back by an order from Tournament of Roses officials to “freeze” one of their animated super heroes.
“They didn’t really give us a reason, they just said, ‘You can’t have that moving,’” Trujillo said. “So that kind of brought our morale down on the first day of deco week.”
But after thousands of hours of student labor dating all the way back to Winter Quarter 2011, the time came to drive the float in the Tournament of Roses on Monday. The construction chairs from San Luis Obispo and Pomona alternate yearly on driving the float. This year, it was Marcinkowski’s turn.
Marcinkowski said it’s always a victory for the team when the float is able to make it all the way down the parade. He said several corporation sponsored floats with budgets larger than Cal Poly’s end up being towed, and Cal Poly’s is consistently able to make it through the entire route.
Despite Cal Poly’s reputation within the tournament, the team of students failed to capture an award this year. It is only the 17th year in the program’s history without an award.
Cal Poly has captured the viewer’s choice award for the past three years, as long as it has existed. The viewer’s choice this year, however, was to go to a marching band in the parade instead of a float.
Hellewell wasn’t concerned after finding out the team didn’t receive a trophy.
“It’s just the icing on the cake. You’ve got to pass it around sometimes,” he said. “As much as you’d like to, you can’t expect to win every year.”
The float did however, receive recognition as the first ever California grown certified float in the Tournament of the Roses parade.
This is just one of many firsts for the program. Cal Poly also had the first hydraulic float and the first animated float in past years.
Marcinkowski said the support from the audience was still prominent throughout the parade route. He said he could hear people chanting “Cal Poly” all the way through the parade.
“We’re kind of the underdog story every year,” he said. “We always have new people coming in. People like a good underdog.”
Cal Poly is one of six floats in the parade not sponsored by a corporation, and it is the only float from a university. Hellewell said it is a flagship of the state of California, representing its university system to 400 million people watching the parade worldwide.
Despite their pride in the float they had created, the team was ready to be done with the float after they made it through the route. So they participated in a long-standing tradition among the students: jackhammer demolition.
“You’re tired of it,” Trujillo said. “You’re frustrated at it. And you’re ready to tear it down.”