An evolving tradition: SRU Homecoming

Published by , Author: Hannah Shumsky - Assistant News Editor, Date: October 11, 2018
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This weekend, SRU will crown two students as homecoming royalty instead of a king and queen, making SRU the second university in Pennsylvania and the fifth in the United States to form a gender-inclusive court. This historic change, however, tells only part of the history of SRU’s homecoming.

The first mention of “homecoming” in The Rocket was on May 27, 1927, referring to the annual Alumni Day; however, the first fall homecoming was on Oct. 13, 1934.

Alumni of Slippery Rock State Teachers College participated in Demonstration Day in the morning at the Training School. In the afternoon, a parade with bands, floats and current and former students traveled to the stadium in time for the football game kickoff.

The evening concluded with an ox roast with the president and dean of women. The roast was an annual event until 1937, when North Hall was completely destroyed on Oct. 16 due to a fire from the roast. In 1938, the homecoming schedule changed the ox roast to a barbeque dinner in the dining hall.

Caroline Williams was named the first homecoming queen of Slippery Rock State Teachers College in 1940. As part of the queen’s royal duties, she presented the football to the football players—”the gridders”—prior to the game.

Homecoming festivities were put on hold during World War II. The “first real homecoming” since the war was held on Oct. 4-6, 1946. During this homecoming, festivities included a bonfire and “pep meeting” Friday night and a parade featuring marching bands from Butler, Slippery Rock and Indiana (Pa.).

“The bands were followed by floats depicting school-life in pre-war days,” an article in The Rocket’s Oct. 17, 1946 issue stated.

The following year, Jean Evans was named the first homecoming queen since the war. Each year, one female was selected to represent the freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior classes on the court.

The homecoming court structure changed drastically throughout the 1970s. Starting in 1972, to accommodate the growing number of students on campus, court members were nominated by organizations recognized through the Student Government Association (SGA). Each candidate had to complete a private interview, then semi-finalists were selected for an open question period.

The 1976 homecoming festivities introduced a “homecoming representative” for the first. B. J. Minich wrote in the Oct. 15 issue of The Rocket that the representative would be “someone who is responsible, involved, and has a good attitude towards school; as opposed to the prettiest!” That year, Barbara Jackson was crowned representative.

The following year was the first time two students were named as king and queen. Alongside Maureen Dillon as homecoming queen, Ed Valentas was elected the first homecoming king in 1977.

The tradition of crowning a homecoming king and queen remained for four decades, with the exception of 1999. This year, there was a tie in the vote for king. Along with Karen Davidson being crowned as queen, Mike Corcoran and Jamey Pirring were crowned as kings.

The court selection process most recently changed in 2011. Jordan Bailley, SGA president, made the decision to disband the original court and give all 37 applicants the opportunity to be on the ballot. While 20 of the original applicants on the court stayed, Bailley’s decision was met with harsh criticism.

“I didn’t go looking for controversy, but I did look for the best decision knowing it wouldn’t be perfect,” Bailley said in the Oct. 21, 2011 issue of The Rocket. “I’m sorry it upset many people and caused some undesirable stress, but I stand behind my decision.”

Bonfires were a consistent part of the Friday night pep rallies from 1946 to the mid-1990s. The bonfire coincides with freshmen initiation during which freshman had to wear dinks and signs when they were outside of their dorms or the dining hall, as outlined in a 1953 copy of the initiation rules. Freshmen were responsible for providing firewood for the bonfire and threw their dinks and signs into the fire to mark the end of initiation.

Throughout the 1990s, alcohol at tailgates became a topic of debate. Starting in 1991, then-president Dr. Robert Aebersold repealed the policy that allowed drinking outside of the N. Kerr Thompson Stadium.

“The A-word is forbidden on SRU’s ‘dry’ campus,” Dana Zuber, a past editor-in-chief of The Rocket, said in an editorial in the Sept. 27, 1996 issue.

Dr. Robert Smith reinstated the policy in 2011, permitting beer and wine outside of the stadium but not drinking games. Police presence during homecoming became a topic of discussion starting in 2005. Since then, police have utilized helicopters and horses during homecoming weekend.

Homecoming also served as a weekend for dedicating new structures and introducing new mascots. N. Kerr Thompson Field, Wright Alumni House and Robert Smith Student Center were dedicated in 1939, 1998 and 2012, respectively, during homecoming festivities. Rocky the Lion was first revealed in at the pep rally 2000, serving as the grand marshall for the parade the following morning.

Although many activities and arrangements have changed in the past eight decades, some ideas remain constant. For example, a reference to gender inclusivity appeared in The Rocket on Oct. 25, 1974, three years before the first homecoming king was crowned. The article, entitled, “Contest is Non-Gender,” refers to the homecoming committee at Akron University in Ohio, which decided to crown a “homecoming person.”

“The homecoming committee said they decided to join ‘the growing trend in America to speak in non-gendered terms,’” the article reads.

Aside from homecoming court members representing various SGA-recognized organizations, two other traditions remain strong to date. The Black Action Society’s first homecoming dance was on Sept. 28, 1990 at the Founders Hall Tennis Court. In the community, students were first commended for painting in town in 1990. The Rocket first advertised “Paint the Town” on Sept. 25, 1992.

The 2018 homecoming court will be announced at the pep rally in Morrow Field House on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. The following afternoon, however, two students will become part of SRU history when they are crowned as homecoming royalty in a new, gender-inclusive era of homecoming festivities.

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Hannah is a senior secondary English education major and communication minor entering her third year on The Rocket staff and her second year as editor-in-chief. Previously, she served as assistant news editor and covered Student Government Association affairs. After graduation, she hopes to teach English, communications and journalism to high school students. Hannah has won numerous awards for her writing and design work with The Rocket and was named SRU's Student Leader of the Year in 2020. Outside of The Rocket, Hannah is also part of WSRU-TV, Sigma Tau Delta and the Honors College.

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