Local Jeopardy Champion Leads Return of Carlton Daze Parade

2019 Jeopardy Tournament of Champions Winner Sam Kavanaugh led the 100 floats down Highway 210.

CARLTON, Minn.- As local celebrations make a comeback after 2020, the streets of Carlton filled for the return of this year’s Carlton Daze parade led by quite a smart cookie – a Jeopardy champion and town native.

What is: hometown hero for 200? Cheers rained for 2019 Jeopardy tournament champion Sam Kavanaugh to lead the parade back down Highway 210 after a pandemic pause last year.

“You can’t really escape where you’re from, and I mean that in the best possible way, right? Like it’s always with you,” said Kavanaugh.

He also flashed a bit of hardware while throwing candy up on the up on the Grand Marshal truck – a pro-wrestling style champion’s belt.

“This is a surprise gift from the previous Jeopardy Tournament of Champions winner, James Holzhauer. And now we’re all getting belts,” he said.  “Y’know what, I don’t think I could win the WWE or anything but I can do it intellectually maybe.”

The champion led the roughly 100 unique floats and attractions.

“We’ve got beekeepers from Minnesota,” said organizer Andy Bailey. “Wrenshall, Esko, Carlton Fire Departments, we’ve got senior citizens from the nursing home riding on a float, on a pontoon boat. You name it.”

But Kavanaugh’s return in particular shines a light on the town’s deep connections.

“He’s been very good giving Carlton publicity when he was on the Jeopardy and all that,” said spectator Warren Gardner. “His father and I, in fact I’ve had all, his father and 7 other Kavanaughs as my students. So it’s a lot of nostalgia for me.”

Gardner is a member of the VFW and used to be a teacher in Carlton — so he’s been to quite a few parades: “Probably about 55.”

He enjoys watching how it’s grown to be part of the community.

“Lotta traditions are going by the boards and this keeps it going and it makes everybody, especially us seniors, makes us feel good that they’re still keeping up traditions,” Gardner said.

For the many families with small children in Carlton, the old tradition still brings smiles to younger faces.

“It’s a fun gathering for just the whole community to come out and be together and see each other, even if we’re just waving across the street as the floats go down the road, said  Joel Soukkala, watching with his kids Lauren and Jackson.

According to Bailey, it’s great to get back to feeling like a community again after COVID. “I think it’s just the excitement of small town America.”

“This town needed, well like many other towns across the United States. The need a reason to get out and have fun get out and celebrate and get out and be together again.”

But for the hometown hero Kavanaugh, it means even more to give back to the town that made him.

“I wouldn’t have had any success without the town so it just feels, to be, it feels nice to kind of be able to recognize that, and what it’s done for me as well,” he said.

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