The rain came to a halt just as thousands of Missoulians were leaving the warmth of their homes to stand along Higgins and University avenues on Saturday morning for the University of Montana’s annual homecoming parade.
The parade was particularly large this year, according to UM alumni and volunteer Kirsten Halseth, who spent the entirety of the parade alone in the silent Florence Building lobby, putting the judges' scores into a computer.
Despite the $30 entry fees, there were about 140 entries in this year’s parade, Halseth said, including more than 11 marching bands, floats, cars and political parties. Halseth said the parade is always bigger during election years.
When incumbent Gov. Steve Bullock noticed he was passing the four judges, all UM alumni themselves, he ran to give them high-fives.
“Mr. Bullock is just like Monte,” the announcer said, “We just can’t keep him in line.”
Bullock laughed as he ran back to his designated spot, centered among people in Griz gear, holding Bullock 2016 signs.
Halseth said the judges scored each entry on a scale of one to 10 based on three categories: appearance and impression, originality and parade theme, which this year was “Under the Big Sky.”
After the Alumni Association looked over the scores, the winners were to be announced at the football game, Halseth said as she typed scores into her laptop. The only entries that aren’t judged are political floats.
Halseth said almost all the parade coordinators are volunteers. Without volunteers working behind the scenes, Halseth said there wouldn’t be a parade for people to enjoy.
“I’ve been volunteering for the last four years,” Halseth said. “I just really enjoy working on this every year. It’s so fun.”
Parade coordinator Christine Howe spent her Saturday morning zipping up and down Higgins in a golf cart, keeping pedestrians out of the way and making sure the floats stayed in order.
“We had several floats out of order this year,” Howe said. “If the float isn’t too big, we’ll usually try to get it back in place. If that doesn’t work, we’ll slide it into a safe spot and I drive over and let the judges and announcers know about the order change.”
It’s chaotic, but after Howe graduated from UM and left Missoula to serve in the Navy for 26 years, she wanted to find a way to give back to the town that gave her a degree.
“I’ve met so many interesting and nice people throughout this planning process,” Howe said. “And I was gone for a long time, so it’s nice to be involved. This is one of the largest parades they’ve ever had.”
Every float offered something a little different this year. The Missoula Taekwondo Center’s trailer held a miniature Main Hall sitting in front of Mount Sentinel and the “M” trail. Mismo Gymnastics’ float featured a gymnast spinning on a horizontal bar.
UM’s Residence Life Office had a moving bedroom that included two people in bear suits jumping on beds. One judge shouted, “Where can I get one of those outfits?”
After every float, there seemed to be another marching band.
Zach French, a theater major at UM, was on the School of Theatre and Dance’s float dressed as his character in the upcoming play, "Dracula." French said his character is one of three who help kill the notorious count.
French and his fellow actors were debatably the most lively bunch, dressed in Victorian-style costumes covered in blood.
“My favorite part was seeing and hearing the reactions from the crowd,” French said, like a true performer. “Especially when Dracula would come out the coffin. They loved that.”
UM sociology and criminology major Sanjana Hossain said she stopped by the parade on her way to the tailgates and then the game.
“What a great way to start the day,” Hossain said, as she clapped for a passing float. “I feel so full of school spirit.”