TOR Self-Built Float Judges Assess Every Aspect of Creation

Janet Benjamin, South Pasadena Tournament of Roses decoration chair, instructs volunteer decorators Sunday at the float site at the War Memorial Building Sunday. She said her committee volunteers to create the float for the community, not to win a trophy. Photo by Sally Kilby

Volunteers work thousands of hours each year on the South Pasadena float that rides in the January 1 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. Members of the city’s committee, the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses (SPTOR), raise funds, select a design for the float, and construct and decorate it.

They then ensure that their creation, the oldest self-built float in the parade, glides smoothly along Colorado Boulevard before a worldwide audience.

Two dozen of the 40 floats will receive trophies awarded by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses (TOR) in various categories. Winners are chosen by three judges named by the Tournament organization. They use criteria that include float design, floral presentation and entertainment value, according to the TOR website.

“When we win a trophy, it means the Tournament and the judges recognize our efforts,” said Decoration Chair Janet Benjamin at the War Memorial Building float site Sunday. “But we don’t do it to win. We do this because it’s a tradition for the city, to build community, and to interact with people.”

“Winning a trophy is nice,” she said, “but it’s icing on the cake. As long as we can say we did our best and the community is happy with what we’ve done, that’s what matters,” she said.

Understandably, some committee members would relish receiving a trophy for their hard work.

“I’d be happy for any trophy,” said Chris Duenas-Metcalf, longtime floral design volunteer, at the site, “but I’d like something that recognizes the color and harmony and diverse use of organic materials.”

“I’m hoping for this one because it checks all the boxes,” he added. He was referring to the TOR’s judging criteria and float requirements.

Since 1893, South Pasadena has garnered 37 awards, according to the committee’s website at In the last 10 years, it has received three. 

South Pasadena’s 2019 entry is titled “Three Little Birds” after the reggae musician Bob Marley tune by the same name. Three colorful singing birds perch on a guitar atop the float. Other instruments and oversized musical notes surround the birds. The song will play as the float moves along the route. The design reflects the parade’s theme of “The Melody of Life.”

The South Pasadena Review asked the 2019 judges how they score floats. In particular, how they do this for self-built floats. The three judges are Kimberly Oldis, Preston Bailey and Michael Berry.

Self-built entries in the parade, other than South Pasadena’s, come from Burbank, Downey, La Cañada Flintridge, Sierra Madre and California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). 

Judge Oldis has a 44-year career in the floral industry, according to the TOR’s announcement of judges on September 18. Based in Washington state, she is past president of the American Institute of Floral Designers. In addition, she was a designer for Charisma Floats, a former TOR float builder. In addition, she has created floral designs for such major events as the Academy Awards.

Oldis said in an email that prior to judging floats, she will attend an orientation held by the Tournament of Roses. This, she said, “is to know the criteria that the Tournament of Roses Judging Committee has set for us.” 

Oldis has experience with self-built floats. She previously volunteered as a designer for the Cal Poly float, according to her biography.

“I appreciate all of the volunteer hours and efforts that the self-built floats require,” she said in an email.

“Of course,” she said, “I will be looking at the floral content and how it relates to the float theme and use.”

Preston Bailey is a New York City-based event and wedding planner. He has overseen international art installations, according to his TOR biography. He is also an author and teacher. 

Bailey looks for originality of the design concepts in all floats, according to an email from Alejandra Sarcasa. She is a spokesperson for Preston Bailey Entertainment & Set Design, Inc. Bailey also judges the floral artistry and intricacy and the overall impact of the entertainment value of the float, Sarcasa said.

When judging a self-built float, Bailey looks for it to be “lavish yet approachable, awe-inspiring but also sumptuous, opulent with a sense of artistry and imposing with a sense of humor,” he said through his representative.

The third judge, Michael Berry, is a longtime CEO of the Louisville-based Kentucky Derby Festival. He oversees the Republic Bank Pegasus Parade, one of the largest in the United States, according to the festival’s website.

“All of our parade floats for over 20 years have been self-built,” he said in an email. “I am particularly interested in this category because it often translates the enthusiasm and dedication of employees and volunteers into mobile works of art. Add to that the Tournament of Roses’ unique requirement of floral and organic decoration, and the beauty really comes through.”

Judging takes place at 7 a.m. at the float site on December 30 and 31. The judges use scores to determine trophy recipients, according to the TOR website.

Award-winning floats will be announced the morning of Jan. 1 on the front steps of Tournament House in Pasadena, according to the TOR.