Homecoming celebrates the past, honors the present
Every fall high school students begin building floats, planning pep rallies and nominating classmates for king and queen in preparation for homecoming.
The event, designed to bring back graduates from years gone by, is just as much for current students and the community as it is for alumni.
Homecoming has its roots in the early 1900s at the collegiate level, where it was aimed at bringing back alumni for football games, nostalgia and to donate money to their alma mater.
Shortly after, high schools started to take notice and create homecoming traditions of their own.
Deer Lakes School District just celebrated 50 years with its homecoming this year where they invited back members of the original homecoming court, football team and marching band to take part.
“What’s really special about Deer Lakes is a lot of our families are here and they’ve been here for generations,” said Melissa Eck, teacher and homecoming organizer. “It’s just a nice community event.”
Deer Lakes seniors reveled in their last homecoming celebration as students.
“It’s bittersweet,” said senior Josh Yourish, 17.
Not only did they celebrate the old traditions like the parade, but the class started a new one to leave their mark on the district.
The class recognized what some consider an outdated practice of voting for a king and queen from a student-selected homecoming court. The students decided to have a little fun with a game called “hot seat,” where the homecoming court is interviewed with funny questions by other students.
“It’s a fun thing,” Yourish said. “It’s an opportunity to not make fun of, but joke about the court.”
Madeline Boulos, 14, recalls always looking up to the teens in the homecoming parade when she was a little girl and looking forward to the day she could be in their shoes--that day finally came this year.
“You’re setting the example for them,” Boulos said of the younger students who watch the parade.
At Woodland Hills High School students hold a spirit week leading up to the big game on Friday night. The week culminates with a pep rally on Friday and then a parade.
“After school the parade is through Turtle Creek down from keystone commons into the Wolvarina (football stadium),” said teacher Theresa Nestico, who helps organize the event.
Nestico said even the teachers get in on the fun.
“The teachers vote for the faculty homecoming king and queen,” she said.
Franklin-Regional School District has a tradition of holding a massive bonfire each year, where the mascot of the opposing team is often set on fire.
The fire is so big that local firefighters stay on scene to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.
“It’s definitely gotten much bigger over the years,” said Amy Smith, teacher and homecoming adviser. “I think it’s a really neat tradition that our school has.”
Many districts’ bonfire traditions have gone by the wayside because of safety concerns and liabilities, but Franklin-Regional makes sure to involve local fire and police to ensure the safety of everyone.
Smith said there have been some changes in the past few years that reflect the evolution of homecoming.
“We’ve gotten much more modern in the way we vote for (king and queen),” she said. “It’s no longer paper ballots-- it’s all digital.”
She said the way students ask each other to the homecoming dance has gotten much more sophisticated and elaborate such as getting their date a bouquet of flowers, making signs and planning it as a surprise.
“I remember when I was in high school my one friends’ boyfriend decorated her car,” she said. “We all thought that was incredible, but now that would be a pretty low-key dance proposal.”
Teacher Hannah Beno said she thinks the dance proposal trend started with prom and spread through social media.
“A few kids probably did something special for their girlfriend...before you know it its just completely snowballed,” she said. “It’s a whole game changer.”
David Uhring, high school teacher and homecoming adviser at Hempfield Area High School, said some traditions have fallen out of favor over the years because students have become so busy and involved in multiple extracurricular activities.
He said building floats for the parade -- a thing of the past -- used to be a big part of their homecoming.
“It’s a little bit harder to get (participation),” Uhring said. “People have different lives today.”
Even without the floats, the parade still remains a focal point of the homecoming.
“It is certainly a highlight of the early back-to-school session,” he said.