A policeman got off his motorcycle to hold up traffic on Central Avenue in downtown Atlanta. On Decatur Street, an orange-vested road crew worker scurried to remove orange traffic cones from the street.
Soon came a marching band, dressed in blue and playing the Georgia State fight song, hanging a left from Decatur onto Peachtree Center Avenue. Following the band, Georgia State students and staff rode golf carts, many festooned in blue and white balloons. Pith helmet-wearing members of the downtown Atlanta Ambassador Force piloted Segways. Students lined the street, taking pictures and waving to friends.
Just after 12:30 p.m. Thursday, traffic backed up as Georgia State's homecoming parade wound through downtown.
"I'd trade places with those kids in a heartbeat," said Patty Wallace, who got out of her gridlocked car to watch the procession. "I'm downtown all the time. How often do you get to see a marching band on Decatur Street?"
Homecoming at Georgia State dates back to 1939. But this year's edition is the first with a football game as the peg. In previous years, homecoming has been paired with a basketball game.
"The events aren't different," said Nathan Codes, a junior who is co-directing homecoming. "It's more about the intangibles."
More students participated and watched the parade than in the past, according to school officials. (It was held during the week, rather than on Saturday, to give more commuting students an opportunity to participate.) Banners hanging from lampposts around campus promote homecoming, lending a festive air. Students noted more spirit for this year's events.
"This [homecoming] is bigger because football is bigger," said Sophia Arnold, a junior, as the parade passed by.
It's evidence of the boost to student life that school president Mark Becker, athletic director Cheryl Levick and coach Bill Curry envisioned as they've brought football to life.
"Although our guys are focused on Morehead State, I'm aware that this is one of the major contributions we can make and this is the first one," Curry said.
The alumni association's membership has increased from less than 2,000 members in February to almost 3,300. Christina Million, assistant vice president for the association, gives football credit for the boost.
"You can tell alumni are thrilled," she said. "They're already excited about being a Georgia State grad, but this just adds to it."
For students, at least, the excitement hasn't directly translated into attendance at the Georgia Dome. After 11,000 overflowed the student section in the Sept. 2 opener, student attendance dropped to 2,800 and 3,000 for the next two games. Chris Sumter, a spokesman for the student government association, said he expected student attendance to exceed 11,000 Saturday because of homecoming.
After the parade ended by the student center, students lingered. Some campaigned for positions on the homecoming court. Others chatted, absorbing the energy of the day.
"It makes you feel as if you belong to something," Gabriel Hampton, a sophomore. "You have a family."
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