Hilmar High School may be small, but its homecoming parade sure is mighty.
Every fall, Hilmar residents make their way out to Lander Avenue for the annual tradition, lining the street with lawn chairs and pop-up tents the morning of the event in order to ensure they have the perfect spot. The homecoming parade was first held in 1962 and has since grown into a spectacle with over 100 entries — the most exciting of which are the Yellowjacket class floats.
Hilmar High homecoming parade 2019The entire community of Hilmar celebrates the high school's homecoming game with a parade.
“The place comes to a halt for this day,” HHS Principal Melissa Brewer said. “Hilmar’s population nearly doubles.”
The parade shuts down Lander Avenue/Highway 165, which serves as a major thoroughfare in the area and sees thousands of cars travel down it each day. The Hilmar community is notified ahead of time of the parade and its detours, and the major production requires collaboration between the school, CalTrans, California Highway Patrol and Merced County Sheriff.
Other than administration coordinating with local public agencies, plenty of planning goes into the parade on the students’ part as well. HHS floats are truly one-of-a-kind, with moving parts, incredible detail and artistic renderings that bring the Yellowjacket spirit to life. This year, the homecoming theme was “Hilmar is Unbelievable,” and the class floats took full advantage of the theme.
“We don’t know of any other area schools that produce the type of class floats we do…they are almost entirely made of individually hand-rolled and fluffed tissue,” Brewer said. “Our floats have evolved over the years from a simple hay wagon with some decorations on it to self-propelled floats with multiple moving parts.”
The HHS freshmen stuck to the unbelievable theme courtesy of a giant sasquatch on their float, which peered between two swaying trees while stomping on a Riverbank High School Bruin over and over again. Things got spooky when the sophomores rolled by, thanks to a float covered in cackling witches who helped a Yellowjacket boil a Bruin in their cauldron.
The junior float took about five weeks to complete, said HHS student Kyle Johnston, who worked alongside his classmates to create a float featuring a Yellowjacket atop a fire-breathing dragon. A Bruin was attached to a BBQ spit between the field goal uprights on the float, which the Yellowjacket cranked round and round as the dragon cooked its enemy with sparks.
“We had a couple of our dads help us and we couldn’t have done any of it without them. We thought of the idea, and they thought of the machine to spin it,” Johnston said of the contraption. “My favorite part about the parade is that our whole class is coming together and bonding. The sophomore float is pretty good competition, but I think we’ve got it in the bag because ours spits sparks.”
The Class of 2020’s float was out of this world, with the seniors bringing a taste of Area 51 to Hilmar courtesy of a float complete with a spinning flying saucer. A Yellowjacket commanded the ship as it sent a light beam down onto the football field to abduct the Bruins.
Hilmar High homecoming parade 2019 2
In addition to the class floats, youth football and cheer teams, local sports organizations, homecoming court candidates and even the Merced County Sheriff’s Posse participated in the parade. The Class of 1970 also made an appearance, bringing back memories of old for those who have watched the event for decades.
Ashley Lima sat along Lander Avenue with her mother as she watched her two children in the parade — one is a freshman and the other is in fifth grade. She’s been watching the parade for 30 years, she said, and was Homecoming Queen in 1992.
“It’s a fun tradition. We always come early and sit in this area, and we get to see all of our friends and the people we went to high school with,” Lima said. “it gets bigger every year, and I think the floats get more sophisticated. They’re really impressive compared to a lot of other places.”
For Brewer, the enthusiasm from Hilmar residents for the parade every year shows just how strong their Yellowjacket pride is.
“As the saying goes, ‘Once a ‘Jacket, always a ‘Jacket!’” she said.