By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
From grandparents to little babies, and even several pet dogs, everyone was out enjoying the crisp fall weather Thursday evening for Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College’s annual Homecoming Parade down Adams Street in downtown Fairmont.
Students, alumni and families lined either side of the street, and students covered the courthouse steps, cheering on the parade participants as they marched, danced and drove down the street.
Dr. Judy P. Byers, the homecoming parade marshal and director of FSU’s West Virginia Folklife Center, headed up the parade line, riding down the street in a red car, wearing a bright red hat.
“It was such an honor for me to serve as parade marshal, because I’m a native of Fairmont,” Byers said. Byers is also an alumna of Fairmont State.
The parade’s theme this year was “Almost Heaven: A Salute to West Virginia.” This theme was dear to Byers’ heart in her job as director of the West Virginia Folklife Center.
“It’s a salute to West Virginia, and at the Folklife Center, this is what we do! We salute West Virginia and Appalachia, so this was a real honor,” Byers said.
FSU President Dr. Maria Rose said the parade was an exciting time for all.
“It’s great for alumni to be able to come back and visit the university, and it’s great for our students. The king and queen candidates are excited with their floats,” Rose said, “and we’re even more excited this year to be able to bring it to downtown Fairmont with the pep rally up on the steps of the courthouse.”
Candidates for homecoming king and queen came down in pairs in the back of pickup trucks and cars, waving to the crowd.
FSU’s 2012 homecoming queen, Rosemary Grimm, said the parade was a great time for candidates to just enjoy themselves after a week of campaigning.
“This is probably the most exciting part right here, because everyone is just cheering you on,” Grimm said. “The parade is always a blast.”
Members of the FSU Alumni Association rode down the street in a bright red trolly car.
Many alumni were cheering them on in the crowd. Daniel Poe, FSU Class of ’57, said he’s been coming to the parades since he moved back to the area in 1981.
“I’ve got to support my college,” Poe said. “I’m having fun every year.”
East Fairmont High School’s band, FSU student groups and community groups also marched in the parade, with many groups giving out candy for the kids.
The floats followed the “Almost Heaven” theme, and many were quite complex. One float was covered in mountains and trees. Another, carrying 2013 pageant winners, had rocks with real water flowing down the sides. Alpha Sigma Tau and Tau Beta Iota went all out in their tribute to West Virginia with a float featuring a whitewater rafter, two hunters, a fisherwoman and a coal miner.
The FSU band danced and played instruments, and the color guard waved their brightly colored flags along to songs like “Celebration” and “Walking on Sunshine.” The kids loved the band, and most of them danced along while the band played.
Dr. Valarie Huffman, FSU’s band director, said the turnout at the parade was even better than in past years.
“It was a lot bigger this year in terms of crowds,” Huffman said. “There were a lot more families.”
Mia Hersey and Matt Fornash, both freshmen at FSU, had their first experience marching with the color guard.
“It was fun. It was different than my high school marching; that’s for sure,” Hersey said.
Fornash said what he really liked about the color guard was the chance to move around.
“With an instrument, I was a saxophone. It wasn’t as moveable, and I was stuck doing one thing all the time,” Fornash said. “In the guard, it seems to be changing all the time.”
By far the most popular float with the kids was the Boys and Girls Club of Marion County, because they got to cheer on their friends.
After the parade finished, students and many families stayed for the pep rally on the courthouse steps. The steps were decorated with flowers in FSU’s team colors, on loan from Mon River Farm and Garden Center.
The pep rally included additional performances by the FSU band and a spirit stick competition.
The competition challenged student groups to create a cheer representing their school spirit. The team that got the most votes won the competition. One way votes were counted was through dollar and canned food donations at the event. Proceeds went to FSU’s campus food pantry, The Nest. The winner of this year’s spirit competition, and the Falcon spirit stick, was Delta Zeta.
Before the parade, community members and students could enjoy looking at wares from local vendors and artisans. There was also live acoustic music from local musicians, and a jump house was put up next to Huntington Bank for the kids.
Emily Swain, FSU director of alumni relations, said the entire event was a great success.
“We had great attendance and great weather,” Swain said. “We’re really proud of everything we did. It was a great community effort between the City of Fairmont, Main Street Fairmont and Fairmont State, so we’re very happy.”
FSU homecoming celebrations will continue today. Among the events are the Alumni Award Winner Roundtable from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the library, and a Homecoming Student Dance, open only to students, starting at 9 p.m. at Colebank Hall.
There will also be tailgating before the homecoming game Saturday starting at noon. The West Liberty vs. Fairmont State homecoming football game will kick off at 2 p.m. at Duvall Rosier Field.
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.