Homecoming like no other

Schools adapt homecoming plans to pandemic precautions
Brookwood High School in Snellville celebrates homecoming without a parade or a dance Friday, Oct 9, 2020.  The homecoming court did participate in the traditional half-time event of the evening where the school crowned the king and queen and prince and princess of homecoming for the 2020 school year.  Lux Corrona, was crowned homecoming queen, from left, with king Michael Hearnes and princess Bailey Parker. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Combined ShapeCaption
Brookwood High School in Snellville celebrates homecoming without a parade or a dance Friday, Oct 9, 2020. The homecoming court did participate in the traditional half-time event of the evening where the school crowned the king and queen and prince and princess of homecoming for the 2020 school year. Lux Corrona, was crowned homecoming queen, from left, with king Michael Hearnes and princess Bailey Parker. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Like most years, Brookwood High School’s 2020 homecoming court was crowned at halftime as families escorted students dressed in formalwear across the football field. Sashes and sparkling crowns completed the look, but this year’s ceremony included a new accessory: masks.

While the homecoming parade and dance were canceled, the Gwinnett County school required face coverings and social distancing at the game to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Attendance at the game was capped at 30% of the stadium’s capacity.

The circumstances of Brookwood’s homecoming celebration are reflected across the country and in Georgia school districts and universities as homecoming football games and their accompanying activities are adapted for the coronavirus pandemic. The annual tradition brings alumni back to their hometowns and college towns and rekindles friendships between classmates and old friends. While some schools move forward with football games and cancel other activities, others push to continue traditions in a new setting or through a virtual format.

Adjusting expectations

School closures in March left milestones like prom and graduation ceremonies in limbo. While changing virtual and face-to-face instruction plans for the fall brought some students back into the classroom, others continued learning from home.

This fall, some Atlanta colleges remain fully remote while others combine in-person and face-to-face learning. School districts have similar structures, with extracurricular activities essential to homecoming week — like marching band — altered to comply with coronavirus guidelines.

Lux Corrona, a senior at Brookwood and this year’s homecoming queen, loves homecoming and has attended all the games and parades in years past. As a member of student government association, she was initially upset about the cancellation of some of the homecoming events.

“It’s so sad because I’m a very extroverted person and I need people and excitement to keep me happy, so it was really hard especially during quarantine to not really be around anyone and to have all those things get canceled because I just love school so much," she said. “So to not have the things you look forward to every year and to not have all the senior things we would normally have, it was so devastating.”

Despite the initial shock, Corrona went into the homecoming game night Oct. 9 with a positive outlook. While homecoming looked different than in previous years, she is thankful to have been on this year’s court and to experience the memory with friends, including winning homecoming queen while her best friend won homecoming princess.

“I feel like a lot of people in my grade are doing the best they can to still enjoy senior year even though it’s nothing we were expecting at all, so I’m just really thankful that I have a lot of my close friends who are willing to still try and make those memories the best we can,” Corrona said.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

This year, homecomings in Gwinnett County schools do not include dances and other large gatherings. Other metro Atlanta schools districts are following suit and leaving the finer details up to the schools.

Six DeKalb County schools are holding homecoming games this year, and limited numbers of spectators are allowed to attend games beginning this month. However, none are hosting homecoming-related activities.

Sarah Holt and Lauren Levin are in their fourth years as co-sponsors of Lakeside High School’s homecoming events. Now teachers at the DeKalb County school, they got started with homecoming planning as students and former student government presidents.

“Our goal is to really improve student morale and really improve homecomings ... so this pandemic has really put a damper on everything we’ve been working towards,” said Holt.

DeKalb schools, including Lakeside, are still holding all classes online, so homecoming plans shifted based around student suggestions and feedback. Although the school is not meeting face-to-face, Holt and Levin have connected with students through social media.

“... We’re still able to be responsive to them, to make sure that we’re doing things within the school that the kids actually want, not just traditions that we’ve always done because we’ve always done them,” Levin said.

Adapting traditions

For Stephen Chester, a 2001 graduate of Morehouse College, attending homecoming is a tradition dating back to 1995.

Even after moving away for a few years to attend the University of Southern California, Chester always made a trip back to Atlanta for Morehouse' homecoming.

“I have been there every single year. Even when I was living in California, I made it a priority to fly back and be at homecoming every single year, I have not missed one since I started at Morehouse,” Chester said.



Morehouse and Spelman often collaborate for homecoming in a SpelHouse week of events that draw tens of thousands of people. In addition to the football game, at Morehouse, celebrations include pageants, announcement of the court, step shows and tailgating, while Spelman traditions include the crowning of queens, a ball, a parade and community service events.

“It’s just that family cohesiveness that we have experienced while in school, and I think that justifies the fact that so many people come back for homecoming to just kind of relive those experiences,” Chester said.

Since going to full virtual instruction for the fall semester, Votecoming is part of homecoming this year at Atlanta HBCUs. The campaign encourages HBCU students and alumni to vote in next month’s general election. Both Spelman and Morehouse colleges began streaming virtual homecoming events for students and alumni this month, including concerts and webinars, yoga classes and even a virtual tailgate.

Like Chester, Andrea Jackson Gavin, a 2001 graduate of Spelman College, doesn’t miss a homecoming.

In addition to reconnecting with her close friends, sorority sisters and their families, she hosts her own event with other Spelman alumnae.

“It really is a spiritual connection to our school that raised us. So many of the opportunities we have right now are due to our experience at Spelman attending our HBCU and so I think we have this coming back to our second home which is Spelman, it really does feel like that, like a spiritual connection to our friends and the school itself,” she said.

Still, she felt pride for her school for pivoting to virtual events this year and tuned in for the virtual homecoming welcome from Spelman College’s president.

“I was of course sad that I won’t get to see people in person, but the health of our nation and our world is so much more important right now and I am just very glad that we’re still able to come together in some ways whether virtually or just talking and communicating with each other,” Jackson Gavin said.

Even at Georgia’s public colleges, which reopened for some in-person classes this semester, virtual events have become the hallmark of homecoming this year.

Homecoming at the University of Georgia, typically held in October, is being pushed back to the week of Nov. 15. The full schedule has yet to be announced, but most events will be held virtually. There will be no parade this year, and the homecoming king and queen will be crowned before the game.

Georgia Southern’s homecoming, the week of Nov. 2, includes an online tailgate, dance and step show and parade. Georgia State has postponed its homecoming, but the school is gearing up for Panther Week to cultivate school spirit with a mix of in-person and virtual events.

Georgia Tech’s Ramblin' Reck Club plans three events every homecoming—the Mini 500, Freshman Cake Race and Ramblin' Wreck Parade—that typically take place on Friday and Saturday leading up to the football game. This year, two events were held in advance and filmed so people who couldn’t come to campus could still be part of the tradition.

“These events have been going on for years and years and years and there’s little innovations that are done, but the crux of the events is pretty consistent,” said McKade Stewart, a senior at Georgia Tech and homecoming chair of the Reck Club. “Having to kind of pivot on these events and maintain the spirit of the tradition while making sure that everybody was safe and able to stay healthy, that was our number one priority.”

Maintaining spirit

Part of keeping homecoming activities going this year was altering aspects like date, time and location.

This year’s Wreck Parade occurred in advance, and only participants and Georgia Tech officials knew when the event would take place.

Credit: GARRETT SHOEMAKER/ Technique

Credit: GARRETT SHOEMAKER/ Technique

“Everybody else was not aware the parade was coming. You could see the surprise on people’s faces as the parade route came through campus, but we did that intentionally so that we did not draw a crowd of people the way we would in a normal year,” Stewart said.

For Danielle Kaiser, a teacher at Brookwood and one of three teacher sponsors for student government, going forward with the football game and spirit week were ways to keep the tradition alive.

Students nominated to the court did not have to attend the football game, and spirit week’s daily dress-up theme lived on through photos posted online this year.

“I think for right now, especially for students who are seniors, so much of their year has been one of unpredictability and transition,” Kaiser said. “This has been a Brookwood tradition from the time the school started, it’s a tradition we’ve had for a while, and so I felt like it provided at least some continuity for the kids who value it.”

For Stewart, holding these annual events is a way to boost morale in an unusual semester.

“This semester is pretty tough for a lot of different people with online classes and even with hybrid stuff, it’s definitely one of the weirdest semesters that Georgia Tech has ever had,” he said. “By offering these traditions and events that have gone back 50 years or 100 years of putting on the event, just to give people a sense of joy and excitement in the middle of all this, we’re right about at the middle of the semester and people could really use a pick-me-up right now.”

Stewart said there has been a lot of positive feedback from alumni about the Reck Club homecoming events.

“... they’re just excited that we are not letting this year be the year that there was an asterisk and the ball was dropped and we didn’t put these on."

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