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Parade planned to salute seniors
senior parade.jpg
A mobile parade is under consideration as a way to honor the graduating seniors of Warren County High School. However, its June 13 date is contingent on COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and any orders Gov. Bill Lee may have in effect at that time. Pictured are Brennan Keaton, driver, and Ethan Hitchcock ready for a parade. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

To honor Warren County High School’s Class of 2020, McMinnville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen has given tentative approval for a parade slated for Saturday, June 13 at 2 p.m.

“What we will do at the next meeting, and probably every meeting leading up to it, is revisthis just to make sure it’s safe to do it,” said Mayor Ben Newman. “I would say you can start planning and we’ll see what happens. Things can change. I think the governor came out with one order and then a few days later, he allowed a few things to open up. That can happen in this situation.” 

That statement was made following the board’s unanimous decision on Tuesday evening to allow the parade, contingent upon Gov. Bill Lee allowing large groups to gather.

Making the parade request was Brent Keaton, who agreed that placing an asterisk by the event is reasonable and responsible. 

“This situation is so fluid,” said Keaton. “June 13 with an asterisk that it’s pending approval from the governor is fine. From our standpoint, I guess from Project Graduation’s standpoint and the mother and father of a Warren County High School senior, I think that’s the right way to handle it.”

Keaton’s original proposal: students must pre-register in order to participate, parade lineup at McMinnville Civic Center, no more than two seniors per vehicle, vehicles can be decorated, principal Clark George would be the grand marshal, the parade route would be the same as the city’s Christmas parade, and graduates would drive by the Farmers Market to pick up their Project Graduation prizes. 

Some of those suggestions drew concern from board members and changes were made. 

“If you think about the Christmas parade and the homecoming parade, it might be a long distance that they are traveling and people can be spread out,” said Newman. “However, a lot of time what happens is people get in certain areas and there’s a lot of people congregating on both sides of the street. That would be a concern that people won’t spread out.”

McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton expressed concern for the length of the parade and the number of officers it would take to ensure safety.

“If we take the Christmas parade route, we will have to mobilize the entire department and volunteers to cover that,” said Denton. “It would be difficult if not impossible to enforce any kind of social distancing which is difficult to start with. If we did that route, the entire police department would have to mobilize. I’m not against this. We can bring the entire department in. We can handle it, but please be aware of it.”

A Christmas parade usually has between 75 and 100 entries. According to numbers released by Warren County High School, there are 413 graduating seniors. With two per vehicle and all seniors participating, that’s 207 vehicles. 

“There would be 200 to 300 cars depending on how many people ride together,” said Newman. “If you have that many people in there, you’ve got mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, some other family members, some high school students that aren’t graduating that would come out, friends and other siblings. That could be quite a bit of people.”

Keaton agreed the parade numbers, both participation and onlookers, are a big unknown. 

“My wife tells me that there are approximately 250 seniors that are active in Project Graduation right now,” said Keaton. “Of course, there could be some of those that don’t participate in the parade or others that didn’t participate in Project Graduation but they decide to come out.”

Newman stated, “Do you think some of these students would ride together?”

“We do,” said Keaton. “We would like suggestions from you all. Does it make more sense, and I don’t know what the restrictions would be, if we had three people per car. Is that asking for trouble or would that be a better idea? If we put three people in each car that would reduce the number of cars if that’s the issue.”

If parade organizers urged three seniors per vehicle and all senior participate, the number of vehicles would be reduced to 138. 

“Yes,” said Newman. “I think that would limit the number of cars. We wouldn’t want a car full of seniors right on top of one another.”

Keaton agreed, “The pickup truck full of kids is not going to work.”

The large number of spectators and the need for social distancing was discussed.

“We could extend it and wrap it around Morford Street,” said Keaton. “That’s another suggestion. Everybody who is there is going to want to be upfront so they can see. I think the further we can extend it, the better to try to abide by social distancing.”

City administrator Nolan Ming suggested beginning the parade at Warren County High School and allowing it to travel down Morrison Street and the length of Main. 

“People are still going to congregate downtown,” said Alderman Everett Brock. “They aren’t going to stand out on a highway.”

Newman replied, “It gives people the opportunity to do it though. Morrison Street has some pretty good shoulders. People can park easily.”

“People could park on the shoulder and still have room to stand by their car, I would think,” said Ming.

Keaton added, “I think that’s a great idea.” 

“That might be better,” said Newman. “That’s all in the city limits. Chief, what about that route?”

Denton expressed three concerns: 1) for the number of connecting streets along Morrison Street in Westwood; 2) that assistance would be needed to place and remove barricades; 3) and having that many vehicle go to Farmers Market right after the parade.  

“This would just be a parade,” said Keaton. “There would be a time set for the kids to come back and pick up their prizes from Project Graduation. That would be separate and like a drive by. They don’t necessarily have to get back to the Farmers Market.”

Newman asked McMinnville Public Works Department director Frank Southard to have his employees assist with barricades.

Keaton offered to arrange a list of volunteers and begin an awareness campaign regarding the need for social distancing precautions by parade participants and its spectators. 

“I think we definitely want the kids to be recognized,” said Keaton. “We don’t want them to feel like they’ve been apart and, essentially, cheated with the senior activities, but also balanced with and coupled with the current state of affairs.” 

The parade was tentatively approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for June 13 at 2 p.m. Its lineup will be at Warren County High School. The route will run Morrison Street and down the length of Main Street.