Edward McFadden – Staff Writer
CLARION, Pa- Hundreds of students, community members and alumni lined the streets of Clarion, Saturday to witness the annual “Tournament of Leaves” Parade. Featuring decorated floats, performances from various marching bands and dance teams, and appearances from prominent figures of the area and military personnel, the parade was a banner event of the nine-day Autumn Leaf Festival (ALF). It celebrated Clarion University’s homecoming game for the 64th consecutive year.
United States Military and Armed forces were represented in the parade. Near the front of the procession, a military vehicle led the Veterans of Foreign Wars parade block with the words, “This is What Veterans Kneel For,” on the front grille to commemorate fallen soldiers. Veterans present included servicemen and women who were active duty during the Vietnam War, Operation Rolling Thunder and others.
Veteran Michelle Wilcox, a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman of Beaver County’s Chapter 862 returned to Clarion for her second year in the ALF parade. According to Wilcox, the youth in particular are reason to come back. “The kids are so excited to see someone in uniform. They’re always the ones that stand and salute. I’ve got to try hard not to cry.”
Wilcox went on to say that she is encouraged to see the response of young women and girls. “The younger women thank us for paving the way for them. But I thank the younger women for helping us be acknowledged for being in the military.”
Clarion’s ROTC members also publicly engaged in exercise as part of the 22 pushups challenge, a movement intended to increase awareness about veteran suicide rates, according to Ralph Johnson, a member of Clarion’s rugby team who also participated. ALF was sponsored this year, as in the previous years, by the U.S. Army.
Multiple political figures also appeared in the parade, including State Representative Donna Oberlander, and, for the first time since taking office last year, Clarion Mayor Dan Parker.
“You have people who look forward to this all year long,” said Parker, of the parade. “It’s their time to go out into the community and have a good time and see old friends. Families get back together; some plan their reunions around it. “It’s incredibly important to have the festival here,” Parker added.
The parade showcased many awards as well. Dr. Brenda Dede appeared as the Citizen of the Year, and the Clarion University Homecoming court was also on display, with Alyssa Creighton and Nathan Williams as the queen and king, respectively. The Miss Teen ALF and Miss Junior Teen ALF competition culminated in Madyson Montana and Abbey Barron in the parade.
Performances by Clarion University’s Golden Eagle Marching Band and dance team were followed by area high school bands including Keystone, Oil City, Brookville, Redbank, Slippery Rock and Clarion Limestone.
Immediately following the parade, Clarion University’s Golden Eagles faced off against the Seton Hill Griffins, defeating them 33-28.