JHS seniors help rebuild homecoming tradition with parade

Oct. 6—Ellie Benfield marched the parade route twice. And sprinted it in between.

During Joplin High School's homecoming parade, held Wednesday evening downtown, the senior walked first with fellow members of the Joplin High School varsity dance team, wearing her crimson and navy uniform and passing out candy.

When the dance team's float neared the end of the route, Benfield broke off at the 600 block of Main Street and sprinted all the way back to the start, at the 300 block.

There, she joined up with the Constitution team. She threw on a suffragette costume she had placed beforehand in the team's float as it rolled past Spiva Park. She was done with the costume change before they crossed Fourth Street. This time she passed out American flags, which turned out to be just as popular as the candy.

Benfield said she couldn't decide which group to march with, so she chose both.

"With the dance team, I'm supporting school spirit, and this is like my sport, so it's about my athleticism," Benfield said. "The Constitution team is a class, and it's my favorite class, and these are my friends, so I wanted to march with them, too."

Benfield is one of many students at the high school who participate in more than one group. Many people in the Eagle Pride Marching Band, for example, wore their full uniforms at the front of the parade, but some wore their cheerleading uniforms or football jerseys. They all marched together playing a version of Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise."

The one thing all the parade participants had in common: They were part of a reborn tradition.

After not holding a parade for years, the high school resumed organizing the parade in 2019. Canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, it returned in '21.

On Wednesday, an estimated crowd of more than 1,000 people turned out downtown to watch the parade and celebrate school spirit.

Zachary Jones, a senior and member of the marching band's drum line, said he appreciated being a part of rebuilding this tradition.

"It really does mean everything," Jones said before the parade's start. "There is so much going on with other traditions that fell apart, so to bring this back means a lot. I want to come back in 50 years and see this parade still going."

High School Principal Stephen Gilbreth said the parade featured 25 entries, including many of Joplin's athletic and extracurricular groups, as well as this year's king and queen candidates and attendants.

The school's student council honored Joplin police Officer Rick Hirshey as its grand marshal. Hirshey was wounded March 8 in a gunfire exchange with a suspect who killed two other Joplin police officers.

Gilbreth said the parade is part of a week's worth of spirit days and events surrounding homecoming in advance of Friday's football game against Carl Junction and Saturday's dance.

Some groups put in a lot of work for their float. The dance team, for instance, built a tree with autumn leaves — including an eagle in a nest, dangling a bulldog by its foot below.

The float took a couple days of intense work, said senior Zoey Brumley, whose father contributed elbow grease to the project. Using a skeleton of PVC pipe coated in spray foam, they attached real tree branches and wired bright red, orange and yellow leaves for the display.

"It took only a couple days, but it took all of those days," Brumley said. "We all worked together on it, so it makes for a great senior memory."

That float and many others were seen by attendees eager to show their school spirit. Many of the people lined up to watch sported school colors or uniforms associated with groups.

Shundale Martin, 44, craned her neck north in the moments before the parade, awaiting a view of her daughter, a member of the freshman cheerleading team. Her oldest child graduated before the return of this tradition.

"I'm excited," Martin said. "This is something new for us, and a new experience for her. I've always been a fan of parades, and I try to make them all. I hope this one sticks around."