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The real royalty grind
Smile brightly, wave proudly and ready yourself for a day in the life of a princess.
For one year, four teen girls will take time away from school and give up weekends to be the faces of Sequim.
This year’s Irrigation Festival royalty — queen Taylor Willis and princesses Marissa Haner, Stephanie Laurie and Abigail Vidals — took the plunge April 9 for their first parade, the Daffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade in Tacoma.
Some people might think royalty is one and done at the May 14 Sequim Irrigation Festival’s Grand Parade, but these girls and a number of volunteers work countless hours to promote Sequim and the longest-running festival in Washington.
“This is truly a labor of love,” said Lynn Horton, royalty mom for five years and past kick-off dinner organizer.
She and other faithful devotees including her husband, Guy, and Joe and Tawana Borden accompany the royalty to every appearance, including about 15 parades through October.
Horton keeps tabs on the girls, driving them to events in a lipstick red minivan, while reminding them they always represent Sequim.
“Being silly in the car is OK but once outside, it’s a different matter,” Horton said.
For a chance to be royalty, the young women learn a lot they might not normally know, such as Sequim’s history, public speaking and teamwork. Rules include no public displays of affection while serving, mandated community service, no complaining, and maintaining grades and demeanor to standards of Sequim athletes.
Joe Borden, former festival chairman, said the girls mature greatly over the year they’re together.
“If you talk to them today versus at the last parade, it’s like they are totally new people,” he said.
In order to receive a college scholarship after one year, the girls must sign and uphold a contract with the festival.
In recent years, the girls have become more hands-on with assembling and disassembling the float, rain or shine.
“We’ve wanted them to take more ownership in the float because it’s theirs,” Horton said.
Royalty had no qualms with helping in Tacoma.
They arrived the afternoon of Friday, April 8, to unload their bright carousel float next to other meticulously decorated floats. Borden said Sequim’s float cost about $3,000 and used all volunteers whereas other city’s floats have cost as much as $30,000 to build with professional builders.
After a flat tire repair, Sequim’s team got to work. Inside a massive barn, a sea of floats from across the Northwest lined up with people prepping thousands of daffodils to be stapled or placed in baskets.
Sequim’s royalty competed to finish stapling rows upon rows of daffodils to boards. The girls were dirtiest at the end of the day as they sat and knelt on the barn’s dirty floor.
By the time Sequim’s float was good to go, Horton and the girls had been pulling a 14-hour day.
Everyone took a breather in their hotel rooms before going to dinner and later taking a dip in the pool to relax.
Maybe excitement got the best of her, but the princesses said queen Taylor Willis sang late into the night. The girls needed to be up by 4:30 a.m. to ready for departure at 5:30 a.m., a police escort for the float at 6:30 a.m., judging at 8 a.m. and the actual parade at 10:15 a.m.
The schedule did leave for a lot of stop-and-go, but the girls got to see some of the daffodil parade’s many entries.
Marching bands, hot rods and plenty of princesses passed by Sequim’s float.
Sequim’s court said they were eager to meet other royalty. Their first friendly greeting was with royalty from New Westminster Hyack Festival Association in British Columbia.
An ongoing tradition is to exchange pins from each others’ festivals. By the end of the day, they had pins from Canada, Oregon and across Washington.
The biggest surprise for royalty was at the royal reception at a neighboring bank. Inside, most of the parade’s royalty participants shook hands, shared Sequim pins and got to know each other. Sequim’s pink and purple dresses stuck out among the 23 Daffodil royalty all in yellow.
Horton said when the girls took off their black capes, the large group of royalty “oohed, aahed” and said, “Look at their dresses.”
Jessica Schroeder, Horton’s daughter and 2005-2006 festival princess, accompanied the group to the gathering. She said meeting royalty from other cities could mean new friends that last a lifetime.
Schroeder said she misses the experience.“My favorite part every time was when little girls came up to me and were so happy,” she said. “They looked up to us.”
Before the parade, a marathon runner with her daughter strapped to her back ran over to the princesses so they could meet. The woman let them know how much her daughter loved princesses.
Princess Marissa Haner said they’ve gotten a similar reception in Sequim at grade schools and events and that they always make time to shake hands and take photos.
Even before the parade began, the girls seemed in good spirits with little sleep and cold weather.
Everyone except Princess Abigail Vidals had been in a parade, whether as a Girl Scout, with a school or as Little Miss Maple Leaf, as Willis was in her former home of Carthage, Mo. Willis said a parade doesn’t rattle her nerves.
“I’m a little more comfortable in a bigger crowd than a smaller one,” Willis said.
Vidals said she was nervous for Tacoma’s parade, but especially Sequim’s.
“I’m not used to being in front of people and knowing they are staring at me,” she said.
She didn’t crack, though, as judges came by. The whole royalty seemed poised as the parade began.
Early into the parade run, three men came in front of the float with a banner reading “Grand Sweepstakes,” otherwise known as the best float of the parade.
This was the first time in several years that Sequim’s Irrigation Festival float got first place in Tacoma.
Royalty continued to wave and smile while volunteers handed out Sequim buttons and Guy Horton went into the crowds encouraging people to wave.
At the end of the parade, about noon, the girls broke form with a few loud cheers.
They posed for some celebratory photos with the Grand Sweepstakes plaque, changed into festival jumpsuits and helped deconstruct the float.
Horton said it’s customary for the girls to be talkative going to a parade — with excitement — and sleepy on the way back with exhaustion.
When asked what they learned from their first parade, Willis had simple advice.
“Smile until your face falls off and then keep going,” she joked.
Sequim Irrigation Festival events run May 6-15.
Visit www.sequimirrigationfestival.com for more information.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.