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The COVID-19 pandemic placed Valparaiso University seniors and sophomores alike in unique positions, causing mixed perspectives regarding this year’s homecoming. Seniors became the only class on campus to experience two typical homecomings. Sophomores, however, have been on campus, but lack knowledge regarding the traditions and standards of the event.

Following the same format, the University Programming Council (UPC) is planning and arranging events during the week of Sept. 27 leading up to the football game on Oct. 2. Participants of the events are members of teams, ranging from student organizations to Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL).

Teams will compete in a variety of events, such as playing board games, going on a gnome scavenger hunt and a tricycle race.

“A lot of [our events] are traditions we’ve done in the past like in 2019 and years before,” said Camryn Abshire, traditions chair for UPC. “[UPC] wanted to give me a lot of creative freedom. As a sophomore, I haven’t really seen a homecoming here before. I’m a new perspective and there are going to be new things that I do that aren’t necessarily things we’ve done before.”

The newest event added to the lineup is capture the flag. Depending on how the university reacts to and participates in capture the flag, Abshire hopes it’ll be a new tradition added to the growing list.

“I’ve looked at a lot of old documents for the scoring and the points and what they did in the past so that’s been helpful. It’s also just thinking about stuff. What will be fun for people to do,” Abshire said.

Points are awarded to the top placing teams for each competition, along with additional points for every team determined by their event attendance. Many of the teams participating are from FSL.

“In terms of my position, I just like communicating with chapters and trying to spread the word about [homecoming events] and just trying to get people excited. If no one is excited, they’re not going to want to go,” said Anthony Luciano, president of Interfraternity Council. “No one really remembers homecoming, [I] try to spread the good vibes of stuff we do remember and try to relight the traditions.”

Homecoming attracts a multitude of students that participate, as well as faculty and staff for the main event on Saturday. Alumni also return to campus to watch the football game, talk with undergraduates and speak with other alumni.

“I’m super excited because the last time we had homecoming I was a freshman. I had one, maybe one and a half homecomings. So the fact that alumni are coming back and everything is pretty big for me because I like networking and just learning about the alumni perspectives and seeing how things at Valpo have changed,” Luciano said.

All events lead up to the homecoming football game where Valpo plays Marist College at 12 p.m. Additionally, VU’s sophomores on the team will experience their first official collegiate homecoming game.

“I didn’t even really know what homecoming was here. In high school it’s something completely different,” said Braden Contreras, a sophomore wide receiver for Valpo. “I would say [that I’m] grateful for being able to play in front of alumni coming to the game. There is a bigger meaning behind [homecoming]. People that came before us are just watching us play. It makes it more exciting for sure. It’s a respect thing. People that came before us are coming to watch us and it’s pretty cool to be the next generation after them.”

With the influx of alumni and off-campus individuals, a welcomed occurrence after the pandemic limited such interactions in the previous year, individuals outside of the Valpo community cause slight concern.

“I’m excited to be around people and alumni again. I just hope we’re able to do it in a way that protects people in our community, especially our students and faculty,” said Jolie Foor, student body president. “I really hope that we’re able to do homecoming in a safe way. Obviously most of our community is vaccinated, but with homecoming you’re sometimes bringing in people outside your community. I’m a little bit worried about that.”

The university hasn’t released any procedures or policies regarding COVID and homecoming, as well as vaccination status requirements for attendance. Student Senate will continue to promote and encourage the safety of all students, faculty and staff.

For seniors, the eventful week is bittersweet as this is their final homecoming as an undergraduate. However, more benefits and value can be found within the experience.

“Rekindling past friendships would be the biggest value. Having a set thing that you can look forward to that you can come back and revive friendships,” Luciano said. “You get to hear alumni perspectives on stuff and it’s not always going to match up with your views and the current campus views, but it’s cool to compare and then see that growth.”

Similarly, the senior perspective provides a broader view for the entire campus regarding homecoming as they reflect on their growth from when they began to their final year at Valpo.

“Homecoming brings people together. It brings alumni, students, faculty and staff all at this one event. I think it’s great to promote our football team and encourage people to go to those games,” Foor said. “I also think it’s a great way to reunite people in Valpo’s community and stay in touch with people you haven’t seen in a while.”

Sophomores have had the chance to experience campus without a homecoming, but value can still be found in the event.

“I think [homecoming] is just a way to start the year off in a generally good sense. Trying to engage the school and the students to participate and try to connect some of the younger students with some of the upperclassmen who are more involved with homecoming,” Abshire said.

Lastly, homecoming allows VU a chance to reclaim its university identity and spirit.

“The atmosphere should be crazy. I’d love for there to be a big crowd. That’s something we missed last year was the atmosphere, the Valpo atmosphere,” Contreras said.

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