By Whitney Leggett
At first, one is overwhelmed by the stench: a mixture of spray paint, glue and sawdust. Colorful napkins, pieces of scrap wood and chicken wire litter the warehouse floor. Tables scattered about are covered from corner to corner with Styrofoam coffee cups, bottles of soda and balled up bags from an array of fast food restaurants. The walls echo with the sounds of a hundred voices, hammers and power tools.
Chaos ensues at the Madison County Schools Department of Maintenance building on Second Street because a large group of Eastern students have come together to prepare for Homecoming festivities.
Each sorority and fraternity and several other campus organizations participate in a competition to construct floats to be shown and judged in the Homecoming parade.
Organizations are grouped by twos or threes depending on the number of members each group has, and the grouping relies on a random drawing.
“We all draw to decide who we’ll be paired with,” Mary Cecilia Scialdone, a junior criminal justice major from Louisville, said. “Because there are fewer sororities than fraternities, you may get to work with one or two different frats depending on the size.”
After the organizations are paired, it’s up to the students to decide how they’ll raise money to pay for the project, what they’ll spend it on and how they’ll choose to display the theme in their floats.
The 2009 theme was “100 Years of Football.” Each group was expected to come up with their own interpretation, projecting it onto their float.
Many of the teams said the most difficult aspect of building a float is deciding how to display the theme in an original way that no other group has thought of.
Scialdone said the secret is to ask, “What can we do that will standout?”
While the organizations are given space in the warehouse in which to work, the rest of the project is up to them: They must raise their own money, buy their own supplies and designate tasks to their members.
For many, participation is mandatory as decreed by their fraternity or sorority. Most often, members were required to spend at least three to five hours working on the floats.
However, Mary Raider, assistant director of Career Services and a volunteer supervisor of float building, said each group will put more than 450 hours of work toward producing their floats.
No time goes to waste, as some groups go to extreme lengths, whether folding napkins that are wrapped around rolls and rolls of chicken wire, spray painting wooden footballs or sprinkling glitter across virtually every material on the float.
Jenny Tincher, an undeclared freshman from Richmond, said that the large number of participants and the vast amount of work to be done can present a problem to some teams. She said figuring out how to work together and focus as a group is something that is easier said than done.
It seems, however, that each group has developed a few tricks of the trade when it comes to completing their floats.
The sisters of Chi Omega, for instance, agreed that there are at least two little secrets to keeping things running smoothly: division of labor and lots of white napkins.
“I think it’s expected that the guys will take over the building of the float, and we’ll help where we can,” Jordan Mize, a senior communication studies major from Erlanger, said.
Chelsea Doyle agreed, saying that there are ways around having to buy certain color napkins.
“We’ve learned that it’s best to buy plenty of plain white napkins and just spray paint them any color you choose,” Doyle, an undeclared sophomore from Winchester, said.
All that hard work, the late hours and the stress pay off, and there’s one thing that keeps the students willing to work late into the chilly night even after a long day of classes.
“We all have so much fun together,” Scialdone said. “It’s a good way to get to know people from other chapters, an opportunity to work with some people who you’ve never met and a great chance to bond with your sisters all under a common goal.”
Josh Reichert, a senior fire protection engineering major from Illinois, agreed.
“It’s all about pride and developing brotherhood,” Reichert said.
Another thing that keeps students coming back each year is getting to see floats they’ve worked so hard on in the Homecoming parade.
“It’s definitely like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders when you finally get to see the finished product,” Steven Sulcov, a junior fire protection administration major from New Jersey, said.
“When you see your float out there in the parade, you feel a sense of pride about your work and your organization,” Doyle said. “You say to yourself, ‘Oh, my goodness, I helped make that. I was a part of that – I did that.’