America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a time-honored Detroit tradition that has long included green-and-gold pride. This year, the parade will return to Woodward Avenue on Thursday, Nov. 25, following last year’s stripped back celebration, which included no spectators and a televised-only broadcast to adhere to public health protocols, and WSU will again sponsor the Kermit the Frog balloon and serve as a staging area for parade volunteers.
While the virtual format allowed millions of spectators to watch the tradition safely from home, the return of the traditional parade is cause for celebration for many – including Ricardo Villarosa, who serves as coordinator of student life in the Dean of Students Office (DOSO), chief negotiator for the AAUP-AFT Union, and a member of the Academic Senate Policy Committee.
Since 2016, he has spent Thanksgiving morning serving as the balloon captain for the Kermit the Frog balloon team, which includes about 20 trained handlers.
Learn more about Villarosa’s tradition and what it takes to be a balloon captain:
How did you come to be involved with the Parade Company?
I first served as a balloon captain in 1992, 93 and 94, as a WSU student as part of volunteer work with Delta Sigma Pi, the coed professional business fraternity. Then, I returned in 2016 while working in the DOSO.
What time does your day start on Thanksgiving?
3:30 a.m. and on campus before 5 a.m. for inflation of the balloons.
Has the parade shaped any of our other holiday traditions for the day?
I am the main cook for family. So, that means later gatherings for the family and interesting preparation timing for me.
How does one train to become a balloon captain?
Previous experience as a handler helps. There are only a few balloon captains, and we tend to commit for years.
What does the job entail?
We help train new handlers at balloon school, held on a Saturday in October. And on parade day, we are the first in and last out with the balloons.
What is your favorite part of marching in the parade?
Getting the crowds excited as they encourage us to turn Kermit (technically, we don’t “spin” the balloons) as we go down Woodward Avenue. There are always lots of WSU students, friends and families cheering for Kermit, who comes just before Santa.
What would surprise someone who watches at home every year but hasn’t been on Woodward to see the event in person?
Just before we come into the “on camera” section, each balloon must come down to the ground to make it under the People Mover — and then pop up to full flying position for national television.
How do you bring Warrior pride to the parade route?
Officially, no corporate branding is permitted. However, with Kermit’s green and WSU’s green and gold, there’s always a bit of Warrior pride that shows through in a close-up shot.
Last year’s event had to pivot virtually — what does it mean to be back in-person this year?
Just as we’ve enjoyed and encouraged returning to WSU campus this fall, the return of the parade signals our broader return to engagement with the community. Next year, we hope to have WSU students, faculty and staff serving as the majority of Kermit’s handlers, as they have in the past.
Be sure to watch for Kermit (and Ricardo!) during America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which kicks off from the corner of Kirby and Woodward at 8:45 a.m. A live broadcast on WDIV Local 4 begins at 10 a.m. Learn more about America’s Thanksgiving Parade online.