OTTUMWA — Despite a looming thunderhead, Ottumwans turned out by the hundreds to watch the 2019 Homecoming parade.

“It’s just fantastic,” one spectator said as her kids fished lollipops out from under a car parked nearby. “Like every year — the kids, the floats, everything is just fantastic.”

The parade was led by a squad car from the Ottumwa Police Department, followed close behind by the high school JROTC Color Guard bearing up the Stars and Stripes. After them came the marching band, which struck up a punchy rendition of “Sweet Caroline” as they rounded the corner onto Market Street.

OHS cheerleaders threw candy from the back of Ottumwa Fire Department Engine Number One, and one of the girls shrugged at a kid asking for candy on the sidewalk — she had already thrown all of hers, before even reaching Market Street. The EMS cheer squad followed close behind, sitting on a truck provided by Wapello County Rural Fire.

The parade was barely halfway done before people started glancing nervously up at the towering storm clouds. Talks of a thunderstorm warning passed around, but nothing in the world could dampen the youngest spectators’ spirits as they dove for handfuls of candy tossed from the floats.

There were plenty of floats that caught the eye. The OHS Women’s Swim Team rode in the back of a pontoon boat sitting on a trailer, while another featured students rocking out with instruments cut from cardboard.

Students from Wilson, Eisenhower, and Horace Mann elementaries marched with banners and their principals. One truck pulled a Pride float with its riders flying rainbow banners, and another drove alongside the OHS Human Rights Youth Chapter. The HRYC students danced and flew international flags, and held up signs with slogans like “Strength Lies in Differences, Not in Similarities.”

The Homecoming Court came staggered along the parade, riding different kinds of vehicles. While some rode in the backs of open-backed convertibles, others rode along in pickup trucks. Their friends and families shouted and followed as they made their way toward Central Park.

The sidewalks were packed, and kids had to squeeze up against each other to get their fill of candy. Most of it was the usual parade fare, small chocolates and lollipops, but a lucky few got full-sized candy bars. People on the floats were enthusiastic to throw their treats, and in some cases did it by the handful, showering people on the sidewalks.

As the parade rounded onto Third Street, Central Park began to fill, and the members of the Homecoming Court lined up on the stage. Proud parents and eager friends jostled for a front-row view, and a couple men watched from the Hotel Ottumwa fire escape.

The clouds began to spit and the coronation organizers hustled to begin the ceremony, glancing at the sky from time to time.

Each member of the court was met with roars of applause, but it was clear by the sound alone who the winners of the crowns would be: Kacy Nickerson and John-David Springer both drew enormous amounts of cheers and applause when their names were announced.

As was expected based on the cheers of the crowd, Nickerson and Springer were named this year’s King and Queen. Springer’s mouth was open in a half-shocked smile as he and Nickerson posed for photographs. Springer, who is on the football team, was quickly mobbed by his teammates, while Nickerson gave hugs and took pictures with her friends and family.

The park began to clear, and right on time, the storm clouds finally broke. While most were already gone, the downpour drove the last few spectators off the streets, laughing as they ran for cover.

Jack Langland can be reached at jlangland@ottumwacourier.com.

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