Wednesday would be a night to remember for Ashley Kurtz, a senior at Joplin High School and captain of the girls tennis team.
Kurtz joined her teammates and hundreds of other students, teachers and administrators at the high school to show themselves off to the community during the first JHS homecoming parade in more than three decades.
"This is really fun since this is my senior year, and we've never done this before," she said.
The 15-minute parade marched down five blocks of Main Street, which was lined with spectators. It featured appearances by athletic teams including football, dance team, cheerleading, girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer and boys swimming; extracurricular groups such as the Eagle Pride marching band, JROTC, show choirs and the theater department; clubs including Constitution Team, Future Business Leaders of America and JHS Cartoonist Club; and other related educational entities such as Project Graduation, the Joplin Schools Foundation and mascots from Missouri Southern State University and Pittsburg (Kansas) State University.
Angelina Liu, a senior, is a member of the Interact Club, a lesser-known club at the high school that emphasizes volunteer work. In past years, club members have volunteered with Meals on Wheels, Joplin Little League and Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission, while the Ronald McDonald House is on their list this year, she said.
"I'm excited for people to know this club exists," she said of the group's presence in the parade. "Hopefully, if people see our club, they'll be more interested in joining."
Liu believes homecoming hasn't been popular in recent years at Joplin High School, but she hopes the parade will boost her classmates' spirits and drum up excitement for Friday's football game.
"I feel like a lot of Joplin kids, they're not with the community," she said. "But this (parade) involves a lot of students. It's a way for the community to get together."
Hayden Triplett, a junior, was among the students representing FCCLA — Family, Career and Community Leaders of America — in the parade. He hoped the parade would be of particular benefit to the football team.
"I personally think it gives our football players (motivation) to do better for our homecoming game," he said. "I think it will help the community come together and support Joplin High School."
The drama department borrowed set pieces from its upcoming production of "The Great Gatsby" and put the cast in 1920s costumes for its float. Dressed as a flapper with a short bobbed wig, senior Abigail Lundstrum said she hoped the float would promote the show, while the parade would showcase some of the best of what Joplin High School has to offer.
"It shows the community can get together, and the school can show what it's working on," she said. "I think it's fun and a great idea to start it back up."
Lindsey Fisher, a 2011 Joplin High School graduate, brought several children with her — including her son and a friend, both of whom play youth football and were wearing maroon Joplin Eagles jerseys. Her senior year of high school was cut short by the May 22, 2011, tornado, and she hopes the return of the parade will foster a sense of pride in Joplin.
"It's time to be a community together," she said. "For a while, we all got separated there."
Bertha Harris isn't a Joplin graduate, but as she currently lives in the city, her 2-year-old daughter could one day attend a Joplin school. When she heard about the parade, she decided to bring her family out to support the high school.
"It's good for our daughter to see what the community is like and what school is going to be like," she said.
Harris said she hopes the high school will continue the tradition of the homecoming parade now that it has brought it back.
"It's not only good for the kids to see who's supporting them but also for the community to support the kids," she said.