Greeks pomp their rides for homecoming parade

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Late on a sticky Tuesday night, public relations senior Tori Trobak was in a barn in St. Paul stapling maroon and gold tissue paper to a 3-D letter M.

Fresh out of a week of non-stop sorority recruitment activities, the Alpha Chi Omega homecoming overall chairwoman said she hasn’t had a chance to recover, and won’t until homecoming is over on Sunday.

“Some of us are getting an average of four hours of sleep a night,” she said.

All across campus this week, members of the greek community are frantically putting the finishing touches on their housefronts, façades made of pomp, and floats.

In an activity known as “pomping,” they continue to construct scaffolding, drape it with chicken wire, brush the wire with glue and then stick a fistful of tissue paper (pomp) in the holes.

The pomp is part of a larger, elaborate design meant to impress the University community when the floats and housefronts are displayed during Saturday’s homecoming parade.

The Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity has a longstanding rivalry with their St. Paul campus counterpart, Farmhouse, to see who can produce the best, most elaborate float.

This year Alpha Gamma Rho has paired with Beta Theta Pi fraternity and Alpha Chi Omega sorority to create a float in keeping with their “Grease”-inspired “Hopelessly Devoted to U” theme.

Forget about bells and whistles; this float uses pulleys, wheels and electricity to create a moving scene from Rydell High.

Animal science senior and Alpha Gamma Rho president Jon Schefers said he is confident the float will be good enough to add another year to their six-year float dominance.

“What’s unique about our floats is that we like to make everything out of pomp,” he said. “It would have been a lot easier to do the M out of sod and then tack the pomp on it.”

Because of their rivalry with Farmhouse, the men of AGR take their pomping very seriously, said international business and marketing sophomore Greg Jensen, who is also the homecoming overall chairman for Beta Theta Pi.

“If they don’t win, it’s a big deal,” he said. “If our theme is Broadway, then the (Alpha Gamma Rho) guys are directors and we’re the cast of characters.”

Psychology and addiction studies junior Sukie Crawford added, “Some of the boys don’t eat or sleep or go to class because they’re pomping.”

Animal science senior Erik Schmidt, Alpha Gamma Rho’s float chairman, said he has put countless hours into the float since its conception. He said the men in the St. Paul campus fraternities might have an advantage when it comes to constructing the floats.

“A lot of us are farm kids and we’re used to building stuff and using tools,” he said.

Over on the Minneapolis campus, several students have congregated at four houses on Fraternity Row to work on housefronts.

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity has paired with Phi Sigma Kappa and Sigma Alpha Mu fraternities and Kappa Kappa Gamma and Alpha Phi sororities to create the “West Side Story”-themed “East Bank Story.”

Their design features the Minneapolis skyline, an alley and a balcony where a female Gopher (Maria) will reside, said architecture junior Matt Mountain, Delta Kappa Epsilon’s homecoming overall chairman.

“She might end up looking like the Sally’s chipmunk,” he said.

The pairing has also created a moving Goldy who will triumph over an advancing Purdue train.

The homecoming committee will judge each float and housefront Saturday morning. The pairings get extra points for incorporating the theme and opposing football team, Mountain said.

Marketing senior Brian Sondag, homecoming coordinator for Minnesota Programs and Activities Council, said the floats or housefronts are worth 200 points of the overall total.

“We have a panel of judges go around Saturday morning at 7 a.m. (to view the floats and housefronts),” he said. “They’re looking for artistry and colors, and to see if they have included specific requirements like incorporating our theme, Center Stage.”

Sondag said there are four divisions they judge: greeks, student organizations, residential life and campus and community, though no one has entered in the last category this year.

He said the Hmong Student Association, Melrose Student Suites and Sanford residence hall are each making floats as well.

Katie Eichele, Sanford Hall director, said community advisers will create a float with a “Moving U” theme, inspired by the musical “Moving Out.” She said they will put paper on the sides of a rented moving truck with “sparkly things” on it.

Paul DeBettignies, secretary and founder of the Minnesota Greek Alumni Partnership, said the greeks have constructed housefronts since the ’30s and ’40s.

“I don’t think there’s as much school spirit today as there used to be, and part of that has to do with cost,” he said.

Senior theater major and Delta Kappa Epsilon president Dave Jennings said they have spent a lot of time and money on their housefront.

Each house in the pairing has a financial contract and pledges money for all the homecoming expenses, he said. The money comes from member dues and alumni contributions.

Buying the pomp takes a significant chunk out of their total, Jennings said. They have to buy specially treated, self-extinguishing tissue paper – a pack of 300 sheets covers just more than 2 square feet and costs $2.60, he said. He estimated they’ve purchased at least 500 packs.

Many greeks said that few outside their community understand why they would spend so much money and time on something that will barely be seen – the housefronts are up for 48 hours at most and the floats get only 20 minutes of notoriety during Saturday’s parade.

They overwhelmingly spoke of the pride they have in their work and how fun it is to get to know people in other houses during the long hours spent shoving pomp in chicken wire.

Jensen said he thought University students might get just as into it if they had the opportunity.

“Homecoming and Spring Jam are primarily greek events – a lot of houses take it really seriously,” he said. “The rest of the University doesn’t know how fun it can be.”