No one could have ordered up more perfect weather for the windup of homecoming week at the University of Maryland. It was the kind of day college traditions are made of.
All day long it was balmy, sunny, with a little fall crispness in the air. A brilliant blue sky smiled on every activity, and everyone noticed because last year (remember last year?) it rained and drenched all the floats before the Big Game.
No one minded that the parade was more than an hour late. Despite the deepening dusk and chill as the sun fell behind the chapel, couples arm-in-arm strolled the sweeping lawns drinking beer, kissing and waiting.
Freshmen girls in groups of twos and threes mouthed the words of rock songs blaring over the loudspeaker and eyed groups of freshmen boys who were similarly occupied. Everyone waited.
"I think it's great. I just like the whole spirit," breathed bright-eyed Lynn M. Kopper, 17, a freshmen from Long Island, N.Y. "I never had homecoming in my high school." She was dressed for the parade and for Halloween (it was both homecoming and Halloween night) in her high school cheerleading outfit.
"The spirit and the ideas and creativity are terrific," said Irwin Waxman, a funeral director from Oceanside, N.Y. and father of sophomore Richard A. Waxman. "That's what we need more of. With all the problems this world has, it's really great to see them lifted."
Waxman said he and his wife had just returned from Israel and Egypt, where they also visited universities. "They are much more serious in the Mideast," Waxman said. "You see students with machine guns strapped to their backs."
Not so here. The only thing of note on any back was a sweatshirt with a beer logo. And everyone waited.
Growing impatient for the parade, a number of students in beer-label sweatshirts, holding cups aloft, spoofed a parade in front of the reviewing stand. More waiting.
The evening's activities -- parade, bonfire and masquerade dance -- wound up a week of events leading up to Saturday's Big Game against North Carolina State University, a bitter rival.
Monday there had been a tug of war, won by dorms Montgomery Center and Ellicott Six. Tuesday night Theta Chi and Kappa Delta took top honors in the disco dance contest. On Wednesday night students squandered money at a casino (perfectly legal, with appropriate Maryland state licenses, as long as there were no dice games).
Thursday the window-decorating contest was won by Alpha Chi Omega and Alpha Gamma Rho (Greek category) and Montgomery Center (dorm category). An arts and crafts fair ran two days and featured various bands and other entertainment, including the traditional Terrapin derby.
Although there is no longer a homecoming queen, the Black Student Union sponsored a contest to pick a Black Homecoming Queen. This year she was Kimberly D. Johnson, 21, a speech and hearing student from Seat Pleasant, Md.
"We want to present a positive image of the black community," said BSU vice president Ozzie O. Gerald. "We want to honor the black woman and the role of the black woman in history. This [contest] is a tribute to her hard work and success."
The queen is chosen on the basis of intellect, talent and community involvement, he said.
At last, through the gloom, came the blinking, flashing lights of the College Park Volunteer Fire Department leading the procession.
Parade marshal Tim Brant (class of '72), WJLA-TV sports director, emerged from an antique car, as did the parade judges, including College Park Mayor St. Claire Reeves, who looked resigned.Earlier in the week the College Park City Council had slapped the wrist of one fraternity that had breeched a behavior agreement after receiving a one-day liquor license for a party in August. The city will not grant that fraternity another such license for one year. Relations between the boisterous university students and their sedate host town are often strained, but for homecoming old resentments seemed to be set aside.
Drums rolled in the distance and out of the gathering gloom came a shout, hundreds of voices strong. "M," they shouted while drums kept time. "A," more drums. "R,Y,L,A,N,D," increasing tempo, until the whole University of Maryland Marching Band filled the street, chanting faster and faster, lifting flags, pompons, fists and instruments in dramatic, earsplitting unison. Everyone cheered.
And then came the floats -- most portraying bloody scenes from the football field in which some form of terrapin (Maryland's mascot) was doing in some form of wolf (N.C. State's mascot).
With the parade over, the crowd trooped to Denton Beach behind the stadium, where there was another long, cold wait for the parade judging. Firemen lit a huge bonfire that sent a column of sparks high into the night sky. Cheerleaders made themselves into pyramids and then, under the frenetic leadership of head drum major Ahmet Hisim, kept spirits, if not bodies, warm. l
The football squad, looking big, made a brief appearance and the crowd steeled itself for the next day's tough contest by indulging in more beers and cheers.
In the end, Alpha Phi and Alpha Tau Omega took the president's award for best float, the bonfire settled to a rosy glow and everyone strolled home to put on their costumes (it was Halloween, remember?).