Wandering in a Parade!

Ninety years ago, in 1932, Harry Richman recorded his “I Love a Parade.” and included the lyrics:

I love a parade;
The tramping of feet,
I love every beat
I hear of a drum.
I love a parade;
When I hear a band
I just wanna stand
And cheer as they come!

I mean, come on. Who doesn’t love a parade? The floats. The balloons. The bands. The dignitaries. Happy faces line the streets for miles! Families camp out or arrive early to set up their folding chairs and pop-up tents in just the right spot. Some are more elaborate than others. Others arrive just in time and sit on the curb. Dogs of all sizes sit with their humans as the excitement builds.

What most of these parade-goers don’t realize is that it takes a village to pull off a parade – any parade. The coordination with sponsors, volunteers, city officials, dignitaries and their staff, security, maintenance, operations, and numerous other stakeholders is no small feat.

The Fiesta Bowl Parade is no exception! With some inside knowledge about this year’s event, we were well aware of the challenges of executing this herculean task. With almost 90 different groups, organizations, and special guests, it ranks up there with some of the biggest parades in the country, but it’s the biggest one that is solely focused on celebrating all things Arizona.

After months of preparation, there is still plenty of work to do that can only take place on the day of the event. Staging is set up at Bethany Home and Central. That alone was a thing of color-coordinated beauty. Floats on one side, balloons on the other. Specialty groups lined up in order across from the balloons, while the Honorary groups lined up across from the Equestrian groups. And thirteen bands take formation in the parking lot of the North Phoenix Baptist Church.

Volunteer captains get the groups ready and, like a zipper, merge them into formation as they start their 1.8-mile trek down Central Avenue, across Camelback, and finally down 7th St.

Each year the Parade has a unique theme, with this year’s theme “Legends Made Here.” One thing that is consistent from year to year is that the parade focuses on the community and the State of Arizona. All of the entries are local and represent something that is tied to the great State of Arizona!

Legendary Suns broadcaster Al McCoy served as the Grand Marshall. McCoy is known for his catchphrase, “SHAZAM.” He’s the longest-tenured broadcaster in the NBA – serving an astonishing 51 years! In the video below, McCoy explains his inspiration.

This year, my wife and I were honored to have a tiny part in the parade’s success by being two of five anchors on the VRBO balloon. VRBO is the new title sponsor for the VRBO Fiesta Bowl game this year, along with the aptly named VRBO Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe. VRBO’s new balloon was second in line to lead the parade – behind only the Native American Indigenous Enterprise Group, an organization that was formed in an effort to preserve, promote and progress the Native American heritage and mission.

Another dignitary was Pennsylvania native Barbara Barrett, current Secretary of the United States Air Force. ASU students and alumni will be familiar with her name as the University’s Honors College is named after her and her husband, former Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

Of course, with the Air Force Secretary on board, we had to have Luke Air Force represented with an F-35 flyover to mark the start of the parade!

Those that are in the parade get to interact with all of the spectators along the route. But one thing that’s reserved for the balloon handlers is something that makes everyone smile – the famed “spin.” As you make your way past tens of thousands of onlookers, shouts from the crowd rain down – “Spin it! Spin it! Spin it!” The highlight of their day is having the balloon handlers run in a circle to spin the balloon. In the end, you’re thanked by cheers, claps, and whistles!

We loved this family along the route! Although they are notorious for getting every balloon to spin for them!

One of the benefits of leading off the parade early is that you get to finish early – and then you get to watch the rest of the parade!

After passing our balloon to the crew that was responsible for deflating it, we joined the spectators.

Who you gonna call when there’s a parade? The Arizona Ghostbusters, of course. This nonprofit entry was represented by their fleet of ectoplasm-chasing automobiles, aka the Ecto Fleet.

The 2022-2023 San Carlos Apache Tribe was represented by Miss Rodeo, Jr., Miss Rodeo, and Lil Miss Rodeo.

Another dignitary was Mesa’s US Olympic Bronze Medal winner Jagger Eaton. Jagger won the first-ever Olympic Medal for skateboarding at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

One of my favorite equestrian groups is always the Hashknife Pony Express. Yes, the same Pony Express that delivered mail throughout the west. This group hosts an annual ride from Holbrook, AZ, to Scottsdale that commemorates the original Pony Express. They deliver 20,000 pieces of first-class mail along the route.

For more information on the Pony Express, check out this 2016 video.

My vote for the best float would go to the Corona Del Sol Steel Drum Band! How can you not be in a good mood when this entry passes by. This group reminds me of the Stanford University Band – upbeat, charismatic, and fun!

Another dignitary is Phoenix Suns legend and now restauranteur Dan Majerle. The Pride of Central Michigan made his way through the parade and even stopped for some photos with some fans nearby.

You can’t have an Arizona parade without a cactus! The Peek-a-Boo saguaro had a hidden owl in the back.

And the Bill Williams Mountain Men are always a hit. They represent legendary mountain man and fur trapper Bill Williams (1787-1849) and today raise money for charities around the state. The town of Williams, AZ, is named after the mountain man, and the group was founded not far from that location.

There were dozens of other groups that passed by, but no parade in December is complete without an appearance from the man himself – Santa! Here, the soon-to-be very busy man is shuttled along the parade route by the 760 horses of an orange mustang instead of being pulled by eight tiny reindeer in a red sleigh.

While the parade in recent years has moved away from the actual Fiesta Bowl game, there’s no doubt that the ties to football are still strong.

Some critics are vocal about the move to an earlier date – and yes, there are negative consequences, but the parade still represents all that is good about Arizona. You have to remember that the Fiesta Bowl organization, in addition to hosting two major Bowl games within a week, is somewhat handcuffed by the amount of staff and volunteers that are required to commit to the thousands of hours of work that go into planning and preparing for a parade. And let’s face it, the staff only has so many hours in a day.

When the parade floats are parked and the balloons deflated, the staff doesn’t get to rest. They immediately turn their attention to hosting four football teams and the tens of thousands of fans descending on Arizona for two bowl games. Countless events and logistics, once again, can only be finalized in the waning hours.

And remember, the Fiesta Bowl is a year-round organization that touts the message, “More Than Just a Game.” In fact, they host several events throughout the year and give back millions of dollars to our community.

So, the next time you’re in Scottsdale, plan a visit to the Fiesta Bowl Museum to learn more about the history of the organization and its impact on our local community. They can even rent out the museum for your next meeting or event.

For locals, consider volunteering at one of the many events throughout the year. I know we’re planning on returning to the parade again next year!

Great job Fiesta Bowl and the 3,000+ volunteers who participated in the parade! With it now behind us, it’s time to gear up for Bowl Season!

Bring on the Wisconsin Badgers vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, followed by the College Football Playoff semi-final with the Michigan Wolverines clashing with the TCU Horned Frogs!

Stop wondering. Start wandering!


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