By the time Oct. 16 comes, two years or 105 weeks, 735 days and 1,058,400 minutes will have passed since Slippery Rock last hosted homecoming. A lot has happened in between, from The Rock football team and women’s soccer team securing PSAC titles to the entire sports world being shut down for the better part of four months.
“Homecoming is exciting whether you’re new or not new, but this one is exciting because it’s our first time back after not having it for so long,” Athletic Director Roberta Page said.
Now the spectacle makes its return, but this year will be a little different. This will be Page’s first homecoming as Slippery Rock’s athletic director, no underclassman have experienced homecoming at SRU before, and no one has been able to enjoy it for two years, so the anticipation of the event is through the roof.
How could it not be? The centerpiece of homecoming is going to be the Slippery Rock versus Indiana University of Pennsylvania game, which brings together one of the biggest rivalries in all of the PSAC. The disdain for one another matches that of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens or Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.
“Everyone keeps telling me that it’s going to be crazy, and I hope crazy is a good thing, meaning that both teams can come together, and fans can come together and enjoy a great rivalry game,” Page said. “Both teams are playing well, and we’re happy to be at home because if you’ve been to the games, we’ve had a really good following up to this point.”
Both sides can agree on one thing though, they’re happy to be back on the field. Neither side is going to take the fact that they’re playing lightly. The hiatus of sports was enough to make even the biggest rivals miss one another.
While football may be the main attraction, they won’t be the only team playing. Men’s soccer, women’s soccer and volleyball will all be playing as well. Men’s and women’s soccer will face Seton Hill University and volleyball will play Gannon University. Three different PSAC West schools will have teams on campus for The Rock’s homecoming.
“One of the things I think we have to remember is that homecoming is not just around a football game, there is a lot of things going on,” Page said.
Men’s soccer coach, Kevin Wilhelm, has experienced homecoming as both a player and a coach.
“It’s special because after the COVID-19 layoff, being able to play at home on homecoming is fantastic,” Wilhelm said. “Going through it as player back in the 90’s and playing on homecoming was special, but now after a [two year] layoff and not having a homecoming last year makes it that much more incredible.”
The men’s soccer team is 4-2-2(1-0) after eight games and will look to continue that with what is likely to be a packed house.
Homecoming attracts more people than other event. Two years ago, when The Rock and The Crimson Hawks squared off during homecoming the game attracted nearly 10,000 people. That was while there were other games going on as well. This year the event is looking to attract even more. In The Rock’s first home game the crowd was about 8,000 deep.
With rival Indiana, Pennsylvania, coming to town, Milhalik-Thompson stadium is sure to be buzzing. The Rock sits at No. 6 in the nation right now and Indiana, Pennsylvania, has been receiving votes. By the third Saturday of October, it is very likely that the game will be a top 25 matchup.
The football team is not the only fall team that is currently ranked. The women’s soccer team was recently ranked No. 23 in the nation. The two reigning PSAC champions have seemed to pick up right where they left off.
“I think the students have been super excited to just be able to be out and go to activities on campus, so being that we missed all of last year and those students that were freshman didn’t get to experience, they’re really excited to come out and experience homecoming,” Page said. “I think it even ramps up the excitement.”
The biggest aspect may be that there are two full classes of students that haven’t been able to experience the homecoming atmosphere. Page feels that this year will show them what it’s all about.
“We can now set the stage for what homecoming should look like, and it’s really about school spirit and bringing people onto campus to really accentuate what we do well on campus,” Page said. “Some of those kids haven’t seen that, [freshman, sophomores and some of the transfer students] can see what a great atmosphere it can be, so we’re going to show them.”
Homecoming is always an event that people look forward to. It brings people home and lets them take in what their alma mater is all about. This year may be a little different, but it truly is shaping up to be a homecoming like no other.