What is the Tournament of Roses?

P. Matz

On New Year’s Day 1890, what has become the celebrated Tournament of Roses began as a simple parade when members of the local Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena, California, adorned their carriages with flowers to commemorate the blossoming of the oranges. Shortly thereafter, sporting events, including races between wild animals such as Ostrich, Elephants, and Camels, took place, as well as polo matches, and even a tug-of-war event.

The Rise Bowl is the oldest college post season game.
The Rise Bowl is the oldest college post season game.

As the Tournament of Roses gained in popularity, garnering the attention of the national media, the parade became more elaborate. Motorized floats in all themes and colors were incorporated as well as numerous marching bands. By 1895 the enormous enthusiasm for the event, and the growth of the parade itself, had become too much for the Valley Hunt Club to handle. Thus, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association was formed, and to this day is responsible for administrating the event.

The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the game features floats covered with rose petals and other plant materials.
The Tournament of Roses parade that precedes the game features floats covered with rose petals and other plant materials.

In 1902 the decision was made to add a college football game to the celebration, commencing at the conclusion of the floral parade. This football game was the first post-season college football game ever held in the U.S., and pitted Stanford University of the West Coast, against the University of Michigan representing the East. Michigan crushed Stanford 49-0, in a game that was ended in the third quarter when Stanford conceded the match. Due to the huge disparity in talent at the time, for a number of years following this blowout game, the tournament committee abandoned football, opting, instead to hold chariot style races in the tradition of the Roman coliseum.

However, in 1916 the tradition of a post parade college football game was renewed. Due to the massive popularity of the event as well as the size of the crowds which overwhelmed the tournament park, it was decided in 1920 to construct a large scale stadium to host the football game. In 1923 construction was completed, and the stadium, as well as the football game itself, was dubbed the “Rose Bowl.” In 1947, an agreement was made between the Big Ten and Pacific Ten conferences for the champions of the respective conferences to meet in the Rose Bowl to determine an overall champion.

It has been the tradition of the Tournament of Roses to nominate a significant personality to serve as the Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade. Celebrities, presidents, corporate leaders, and even fictitious characters from popular culture such as Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog, have served in this honorary position. In addition to the Grand Marshall, a Rose Queen and Royal Court are selected from among thousands of young women who compete for the prestigious positions in a competition where judges vote for the candidates who they feel best embody the poise, sophistication, and community service valued by the Tournament of Roses.

Along with the marching bands and floats, equestrians have always been significant participants in the Rose Parade. Each year over 300 horses and riders march in the parade. The selection committee tries to include breeds from around the world, showcasing the different types of horses, an aspect of the parade that has become a crowd favorite over the years.

Keeping up with the times, the Tournament of Roses has evolved to be an annual New Year’s Day tradition enjoyed by people all across the world. The Rose Parade is now more elaborate than ever with the majority of mechanized floats being constructed by companies specializing in the crafting of these fabulous creations. Since the cost of float construction is tremendous, many of the floats are now sponsored by corporate entities rather than simply local community groups as in the past. In addition to flowers and natural materials, sound effects and computerized visuals, have become common elements in float design. What began as a simple procession of carriages decked out in local flowers, has now become a significant media event broadcast to millions of households, and a cherished American New Year’s Day tradition.

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