As a young girl growing up in South Pasadena, Cole Fox knew it would be a “dream and honor” to be member of the Tournament of Roses Royal Court.
She places heavy emphasis on the words dream and honor, believing when she tried out for the prestigious role back in September it would never happen.
“It was always something I’ve known about,” said Fox, a 17-year-old senior at South Pasadena High School. “For me, it was waiting until the age where I could tryout,” “It wasn’t a question for me. It was a matter of when I was eligible.”
That dream came true in October when Fox was honored by being selected among more than 600 applicants to become a part of royalty as a member of the Royal Court, now looking forward to New Year’s Day spectacle when she will ride in the 131st Rose Parade and attend the 106th Rose Bowl Game.
Fox will ride on a float showcasing magnificent rose and floral arrangements, along with other princesses Rukan Saif, Mia Thorsen, Emilie Risha, Reese Rosental Saporito, Michael Wilkins, and Rose Queen Camille Kennedy, all serving as ambassadors of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community and greater Los Angeles area.
Following a myriad of events together with what she calls her “new sisters,” it has become a family affair, the group going in all directions, covering countless miles during a whirlwind experience of new discovery.
“We all get along really well,” said Cole of the bond between her and the other young women on the Court. “We all clicked really fast. I didn’t expect the relationships to form as quickly between the girls and me. In knowing each other for just a short amount of time, I can’t imagine not staying this close forever. You spend so much time with them, so you really get to know them.”
As a 5th grader at Arroyo Vista Elementary School in South Pasadena, Cole took part in the annual State Float Parade, an annual December event in which students spend months researching a selected state, learning about its geography before creating miniature floats – some the size of shoeboxes, others reaching great heights – that that are pulled around the campus playground in full view of hundreds of parents, grandparents and friends taking in the beauty of it all.
Rolled on four wheels in front of an appreciative crowd, each float includes important features of the states covered with all natural materials in keeping with the Pasadena annual Tournament of Roses Parade. Enhancing the experience, members of the Royal Court are traditionally on hand to view the floats from front row seats.
When the announcement was made that the Rose Queen and her Court were in attendance at the State Float Parade, as a young girl Fox recalls turning around, looking up in awe seeing “a line of beautiful ladies standing there,” she explained, and thinking, “wow!”
She thought it would be “cool” to someday be a part of it, sitting in their shoes. And today, well, here she is on the doorstep of going on the ride of a lifetime as a Rose Princess.
“When I was at Arroyo Vista, I always looked up to them thinking it would be a dream and honor to be on the Court,” she said at her South Pasadena home recently, surrounded by family, remembering her childhood. “When I got older, I saw how I fit the mold of a good Royal Court member. So once I came to the age it was, ‘Okay I finally I get to tryout.’ It wasn’t really ever a question as much as reaching the right age.”
Now she’s in a position to talk with young girls who might want to someday have the same aspiration.
“When I go to Arroyo Vista as a member of the Court, I’m thinking back when I was a 5th grader and thinking maybe one of those students will someday be on the Court,” said Fox. “I like the idea of being a role model for a kid who might have a desire to be a part of this because I once was in their position.”
Did Cole feel like she had a chance to earn a spot on the Court when the opportunity to tryout this year rolled around? “No,” she said emphatically, “but neither does anybody else. We are our own worst critics. Not that I didn’t believe in myself, but it was a distant dream that I had, and I didn’t think it would happen. I thought I would be a good fit, but I thought there were too many girls and I wouldn’t stand out.”
Every step of the way through the selection process, Fox would receive congratulatory emails saying she was a candidate in the next round. As the positive messages kept coming, so did the excitement. “On the third round, my mom was on the ground screaming,” said a smiling Cole. “It just reassured me of my confidence because going in I was like, ‘Nah, it’s not going to happen.’ But when it did, it was pretty cool I guess I did it.”
Two of her best friends, Mia Dawson and Eleanor Washburn, both from South Pasadena, were among the finalists, reaching the top 25, and were right there rooting Cole on, pleased she was among the final seven.
Much of who she is and what she’s accomplished, admits Cole, is a result of a loving family, including parents Robert and Rachel Fox and her two siblings, Harper and Sawyer, growing up in the tight-knit community of South Pasadena. “Honestly, I’ve had a perfect childhood,” said Fox. “I couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up. As I applied for different colleges and thought about leaving this place, I think about how lucky I’ve been to grow up here. It’s great to grow up with the 4th of July Parade, the concerts in the park and all the activities we have here. I’ve learned the importance of community, family and friendship and staying involved. It’s a great place.”
On the go with her commitments with the Tournament of Roses the past several, months, Fox continues to maintain a high grade point average at SPHS, combining to serve as the school’s Associated Student Body senior class vice president, head of design for the campus yearbook, Copa De Oro, secretary for Student Site Council, and involvement in Girl Scouts, where she is a Gold Award recipient.
In addition, Fox is Posse Foundation Scholarship semifinalist, is active in musical theater, performing in school plays over the years. She also enjoys, vegan cooking, creative writing, painting, Sudoku puzzles, hair styling and dancing.
“Very hectic,” is the way she describes her schedule these days as she and the Royal Court visit kids in hospitals, go to foster care facilities, retirement homes and much more. “I thought my life was busy before (becoming a Rose Princess) but now it’s kind of exploded into a lot more, yet it’s manageable because it’s fun. I’m doing a lot of things, but I’m learning a lot about time management and multitasking because I have to be at events, making sure I’m ready on time, making sure I stay on top of my school work, my own family, friends and relationships. It has been a lot of growth already in the time that I have been on the court. The other girls are super fun to be around.”
Cole has always been highly involved in school and close to the faculty, noting that her teachers “were super-supportive and excited when I was announced to the court,” she explained. “That’s one of the big reasons I’ve been able to manage school and Rose Court work. My teachers have also been helpful in allowing me to turn in work a little bit late, knowing I have an event (for the Tournament of Roses) the night before. It’s a matter of looking at my schedule, when I’m going to be missing class, what assignments I’m going to be missing and then visiting my teachers, letting them know I’m going to get caught up on work. My teachers have been super-supportive. If I didn’t have their support, I’d be having a really hard time right now.”
Since becoming a member of the Royal Court, Fox says she’s not being treated any differently on campus except from one teacher who “bows to me,” she said laughing, knowing it’s all in fun.
Outside of that, life at South Pasadena High is pretty much the same. “We actually have some new, younger teachers who are not fully aware of what this all means. So when I went to them and showed them my schedule they were like, ‘Okay, this is a big deal.’”
Yes it is, all agreed. They’ll be glad to know members of the Royal Court receive a $7,500 educational scholarship. It will be put to good use as Cole wants to study biology, attend medical school and become a dermatologist after deciding between Northwestern, New York University, University of Wisconsin, Tulane or University of California, Los Angeles as her college choice.
“I’m interested in a big city, big campus, big opportunities,” said Fox as she looks ahead to university life.
In the immediate future, however, Cole isn’t thinking so much about her educational endeavors as much as what’s before her as the calendar turns to a new year on Wednesday.
“We’re training our arms because we know we have to wave for a long time,” Fox said, recognizing that she and those on board the 2020 Royal Court float will be going 5-1/2 mile down Colorado Boulevard to the delight of thousands watching along the parade route and millions more viewing on television worldwide. “I’m trying to workout my arms so I can build up stamina. We do so much before in terms of attending events, I feel like the parade is kind of that final hurrah, yet I know we’re going to have other events after the parade. It’s kind of a moment for us to take in all that we have done in the past few months. It will be a rewarding time, but I can’t imagine it won’t be anything shy of ‘wow.’ That’s the only word I can think of. I’m super-excited for it to ride with all the other girls. It’s going to be super fun.”
Family members, some coming from across the country, will be in attendance at the parade, watching Cole in the spotlight. “The Rose Parade has always been a big part of my life,” she said. “Getting together with them will be exciting. To actually be in it is surreal. It’s crazy to think about it.”
Dinner table conversations at home have changed in recent months as Fox talks about places she’s seen, the people she has met. Tournament of Roses officials say the Royal Court will attend about 100 events before their reign is over. “There has been a lot more communication in our house as my mom has helped me get ready for each event,” said Fox. “If I’m in a rush, she’s combing my hair while I’m typing my last college essay. But really it hasn’t been too different. What I do see is how proud my parents are.”
Fox joked that her mother and father are “definitely are not bowing down to me” like her teacher, but the genuine respect and outpouring of love for what she has accomplished is undeniable.
“She’s always been my princess, so I don’t treat her any differently,” said Cole’s father.
While life inside the home hasn’t changed much since Fox became a member of the Royal Court, her mom experiences it almost daily as she goes around town. In the days following the announcement, “Little girls at the (South Pasadena) farmers market would run up to me, ‘Ms. Rachel, Ms. Rachel, you have a princess,” said Cole’s mom. “Where is she? Where is she? People just remind us how special it is, how wonderful a young woman she is. People are proud of her and rightly so. Home life hasn’t changed that much, but what she’s going through will be with her the rest of her life. It has been fantastic.”
It doesn’t get past Cole, noting: “I feel the love and support and that feels so good.”
Applicants from 45 Pasadena area schools seeking one of seven positions on the Royal Court, participated in the interview process, and volunteer members of the Tournament of Roses’ Queen and Court Committee made their selection based on academic achievement, public speaking ability, youth leadership, and community and school involvement.
Fox has heard all the stereotypes about the Court, including, ‘Oh you’re a princess who wears a crown and you wave at the parade,’ but she hardly buys it. “You don’t know what it’s really like until you’re in the experience and on the Court,” she said. “There is a lot to it that people don’t know. That is something I have learned. I am a lady, but a leader just as well. Those qualities are super important, not only in this position, but life in general.”
Rachel stressed that Royal Court “is a remarkable group of women who are far more than just beautiful – and that they are.”
Her daughter agrees, saying the leadership tips and interview training as part of the process will be “appreciated for the rest of my life,” explaining, “A big part of going to all these events is finding the best parts of ourselves and how to portray that while being on the Court,” said Fox “Much of it is how to handle ourselves in different situations. It has been a great experience and helped me so much.”
Robert says another “amazing thing” about his daughter’s participation as a Royal Court member is his family will forever be tied to the Tournament of Roses. “I can remember when Cole was selected, one of the committee members came up to me and said, ‘You guys are members for life, enjoy it.’ That was one of the first times I realized this was step one to a lifelong commitment, connection and caring (of the organization).”
A a combination of passion, poise and personality, according to Robert, have helped bring Cole to the moment where she will have one of the greatest times of her life by taking part in the Rose Parade and all the activities surrounding it.
Fox won’t be the only local representative in the event as the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has been a part of the Rose Parade since 1893, holding the proud distinction of being the oldest self-built float. The city’s entry – Victory at Last – marking the 126th year in the Rose Parade, celebrates the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave all citizens the hope and dreams that come with the right to vote.
“I’ve worked on our float in the past, applying beads and flowers,” said Fox. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it. I commend our city for being one of six self-built floats and putting all that work into it because it’s months of work, starting with a design that matches the parade theme.”
Tournament of Roses President Laura Farber, also a South Pasadena resident, selected the parade’s theme –The Power of Hope – “With hope – anything, in fact, everything is possible.”
Farber noted, “Hope is more than simply the possibility of fulfillment. Hope is dignity and respect, joy and happiness, aspiration and achievement. Hope never, ever quits. Through hope, we can aspire to be our best and in turn inspire those around us to reach higher.”
That includes the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly over the past year to put South Pasadena’s float in the New Year’s Day event. “We have hope that our float will look great going down the parade route, representing the city really well,” said Fox, confident it will. “It’s great to come from a place that values community so much. South Pasadena is small but mighty. Working on the float in the past, and now to have it go down the route, and to actually be in the parade with it makes me so proud. It’s going to be a great day.”