The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Homecoming Parade kicked off at a little after 10 a.m. Saturday morning as the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South took up its traditional position at the head of the line and began heading north on Main Street.
With the theme Feel the Roar, the annual event drew a large crowd of onlookers who filled the sidewalks on either side of the street as excited children stood on the lookout for the candy and small toys that were periodically showered upon them by people on floats and on foot.
The weather was cool and breezy with an overcast sky that allowed only a brief appearance of the sun about midway through the event. Sunny conditions finally won out but only after the last parade entries had made their way past the Jefferson County Courthouse on Barraque Street.
“I’ve been coming to the homecoming parade every year for at least the past 13 years,” said Pine Bluff resident Wynece Smith, who was sitting on the open tailgate of a pickup truck watching the parade as a small child sat in her lap. “It’s nice to see something good going on in Pine Bluff. The kids enjoy it and it doesn’t cost anything to watch a parade.”
Shalynn Phillips and a friend brought their children to watch the parade.
“We came from Stuttgart to see the festivities,” Phillips said. “We come to the homecoming parade every year.”
Rev. Earl Glass of There is Hope Church in Pine Bluff appreciated the positive energy generated by the parade.
“It’s a good thing to have in the community,” Glass said. “You can feel the energy. It’s something positive for people to enjoy. Also, this is a good way for people who don’t know about what is available in the city to be exposed to a number of groups and organizations.”
Just before 10 a.m. Tim Scott was busy preparing the 90 student-strong Pine Bluff High School Marching Band for its stroll up Main Street in his capacity as band director.
“Being a part of the homecoming parade is a really big thing for me because I am an alumni and former band member of both Pine Bluff High School and UAPB,” Scott said. “I’m happy to see friends of mine from both schools who I usually get to see at most once or twice a year.”
Vickie Liddell is the band director for the 60-strong Dollarway High School Band.
“The children look forward to this all year,” Liddell said. “It is the highlight of their marching season. They also enjoy getting to talk to members of the UAPB marching band. It gives them a chance to network with the college students. We come here every year. Some of our football players are also in the band so having these Saturday events allows them to participate as well.”
The Jack Robey Junior High School Marching Band and the Broadmoor Elementary School Drill Team were also on hand.
The Saturday evening high school band exhibition at the H. O. Clemmons Arena in the Kenneth L. Johnson Sr. HPER Complex attracted a number of bands from across the Mid-South region, including the Hamilton High School Marching Band from Memphis, Tenn.; the Earle High School Marching Band from Earle, Ark.; the Carr Lane Music & Performing Arts Middle School from St. Louis,; the Townview Magnet Center from Dallas.; and the Maplewood High School Band from Nashville, Tenn.
A number of organizations entered floats in the parade, each with a different take on the theme Feel the Roar. One of those organizations was Southeast Arkansas College.
“It’s been a great experience being a part of the SEARK float this year,” said recent SEARK graduate Tikeecha Spikes.
Caleb Lacy is the man behind the mask that is the SEARK Shark mascot.
“The cool weather this morning is nice because this suit can get really hot,” Lacy said before the parade’s start. “I enjoy doing it. It’s fun.”
A group of campus organizations that included the Student Ambassadors, the Student Senate, Phi Theta Kappa academic society and Baptist Collegiate Ministry worked together to create the SEARK float.
Gail Stith and Nerva Copeland served as faculty advisers.
“It was the students who came forward and said that they wanted to do this,” Stith said. “We feel that it is important for people to know that SEARK has a strong cooperative relationship with UAPB. This is why we all wanted to be part of UAPB’s homecoming parade.”
A number of politicians walked the route, including U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate and former U. S. 4th District Congressman Mike Ross; as well as Jefferson County 13th District Justice of the Peace Edward Spears; State Sens. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV and Stephanie Flowers; Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth; Pine Bluff Aldermen Charles Boyd, George Stepps, Thelma Walker, and Steven Mays; Circuit Clerk Lafayette Woods Sr.; Jefferson County Judge Dutch King; Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson; Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson and Watson Chapel School Board member Sandra C. Boone.
The city’s youth football leagues were well represented with each team riding on the back of a flatbed semi-truck trailer.