LOVELAND, Ohio - The annual parade that kicks off the Reds' season is a celebration of Opening Day, baseball, city pride and the arrival of spring.
But Monday's march down Race Street in downtown Cincinnati will also feature contingents that want to honor the heart and soul of the country: the U.S. Armed Forces.
This year, the 95th rendition of the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, a special float dedicated to the men and women who’ve served and protected their country will make the trek through Over-the-Rhine toward Great American Ball Park.
While its intended to honor all members of the military, the parade vehicle created and sponsored by XY Powersports in Loveland pays special tribute to Army Staff Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin.
“This machine is an ideal way to pay tribute to our military men and women and to honor the memory of Matt Maupin,” said XY Powersports President Steve Claybourn who said the theme of the tribute rock crawler is “All gave some, some gave all.”
A native of Batavia, Maupin was captured and killed by insurgents in Iraq. He has served as a symbol of the sacrifice members of the military and their families have made since the story of his capture made national headlines in 2004.
One of just 173 floats in the parade, the customized float is a Big Iron 600 UTV that dons graphics honoring Maupin and U.S. soldiers, as well the American flag and a POW/MIA flag in the back. It will be showcased on a trailer pulled by a van driven by Maupinʼs father, Keith Maupin, who lives in Clermont County.
Claybourn, a Vietnam veteran whose father was a prisoner of war during World War II, said he was inspired to design this vehicle after discussions with Matt’s father.
“I never had (the Opening Day parade) in mind when we started it. Keith said we should do the parade and I said, we'll get it done," Claybourn recalled. “The timing came out just perfectly for Matt's memory and the parade.”
In 2004, shortly after their son was captured, Keith Maupin and his former wife Carolyn established the Yellow Ribbon Support Center. The Clermont County-based nonprofit has sent tends of thousands of care packages to troops in harm’s way.
The trailer will be part of the Yellow Ribbon Support Center unit, in parade position 94.
“This rock crawler brings a lot of attention to our military personnel and the great work of the Yellow Ribbon Support Center,” Claybourn said. “XY is proud to share this vehicle with Cincinnati Reds fans, and we hope this tribute vehicle supports the efforts of Yellow Ribbon and honors U.S. soldiers.”
Claybourn said Keith Maupin was the primary consultant on the design and construction of what he calls "Matt's Ride."
"I've enjoyed and continue to enjoy being a friend of Keith's and doing whatever I can to stay focused with this machine on its true mission and that is to remember Matt," he said.
While its camouflage paint job and intricately designed decals look spectacular now, there was a time when XY Powersports’ president wasn’t sure the project would get in done in time. But because of the importance of the project there was no way the community would led that happen.
"All of a sudden a few people just came out of the wood work and they were the right people at the right time and they busted their hind end to get it done," Claybourn said.
In addition to XY Powersports, contributors to the tribute-vehicle effort include Crux Roadboardz Graphics, PD International, PES (Printers Emergency Service), Harold Auto Body, Motorcycle & Powersports News, Revealing Words, Jeff Williams and Michael Mitzel.
The tribute vehicle recently received attention from U.S. Congressman Brad Wenstrup in February when he toured XYʼs Loveland facility alongside Keith Maupin.
In addition to the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, XY plans to showcase this tribute vehicle at various races and UTV industry events in order to raise awareness and funds for the Yellow Ribbon Support Center.
Yellow Ribbon also supports the Let Us Never Forget Scholarship Fund, and the tribute vehicle will be on display at its annual fundraising dinner.
This year’s dinner is Saturday, April 5, at the Oasis Conference Center in Loveland.
But first things first.
The plan is to deliver “Matt’s Ride” to Keith Maupin on Sunday so it’s ready for the parade Monday morning.