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On the avenue, Fifth Avenue, Big Red Band stops traffic

Katz parade in NYC

Arnold Adler/Provided
The Sy Katz '31 Parade in New York City Nov. 12 featured Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff as grand marshal.

The wave of chants, horns, sirens and signs could have been mistaken for a demonstration at Rockefeller Center on the evening of Nov. 12. But the sea of red hats, banners and flashing bear paws was far from political. It celebrated the 22nd march of the Big Red Band down Fifth Avenue to the Cornell Club of New York.

The Sy Katz ’31 Parade followed Cornell University’s 42-40 football win over Columbia.

As the giant Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was being assembled nearby, Big Red fans, alumni and family members tried to keep warm while awaiting the arrival of the band and cheerleaders. (Their buses were delayed by about an hour in midtown traffic.)

The biennial parade, dubbed “the shortest parade with the longest history in New York City,” has been a Cornell tradition for 44 years. This year it was led by Provost Michael Kotlikoff – who served as grand marshal – and trailed by the Little Red Band, comprising children who are potential future Cornellians.

Kenneth ’97 and Fion Lee ’99 were two of the proud parents introducing their young children, Byron and Sophia, to some fun Cornell traditions, including playing the alma mater on red kazoos.

“We’re hoping Cornell admissions agrees,” Kenneth said, smiling.

Kip Said ’77, a former band drum major, said he has participated in many past New York City parades and always found them enjoyable.

Benjy Kile ’92 said he was embarrassed to admit he was attending his first Big Red Band parade, but is a big Cornell fan. With three of his five children in tow, Kile said he’s bringing one of the older siblings for a campus visit as a prospective student this fall.

Big Red Band outside Cornell Club

Arnold Adler/Provided
Following the Sy Katz ’31 Parade, members of the Big Red Band play a concert outside the Cornell Club-New York, surrounded by throngs of Cornellians.

This year’s parade attracted many spectators new to the event, with some wondering aloud what all the commotion was about. Fans of all ages could be seen clicking photos and shooting cellphone videos along the Fifth Avenue route.

According to the parade’s website, Sy Katz was an avid supporter of all things Cornell and fell in love with the Big Red Band in the 1970s, eventually deciding that the band needed its own parade. With the help of friends at the Cornell Club in New York, he procured a police permit to march one city block. Over the years, the spectacle has taken on a life of its own, and grew to just over six city blocks in length. Alice Katz Berglas ’66 and Bob Katz ’69 (Sy’s children) and Penny Haitkin ’65 have been instrumental to keeping the tradition going. Alice and Penny carried the leading banner this year. Sy Katz’s original mission remains the same: giving the Big Red Band a grand venue to shine. 

The parade was followed by a Big Red Band concert outside the Cornell Club on 44th Street – with cheerleaders performing flips and pyramids.

Jon Craig '80 is a journalist based in Westchester County, N.Y.

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