Story by Julianna Lowe, Rose Donnelly, Ali Shackleford | Illustrations by Kayla Worden
Wild Wild Western:
2 days of WKU Homecoming
WKU’s Homecoming weekend kicked off last Friday evening with a parade and pep rally, inviting a morning full of tailgating activities and a sweeping win for WKU football on Saturday, Oct. 30.
From the top of the Hill, the sidewalks were a muddled mass of umbrellas and the roads glistened from the day’s rain. Western-themed floats, with people adorned by pink cowgirl hats and cow-print flare pants, lined up in front of the Hardin Planetarium, waiting for the clock to strike 5 p.m.
Students played the waiting game on Friday morning, anticipating whether the parade would be rained out. Prior to noon, it was confirmed by the parade organizers that the parade would still take place, rain or shine.
Parking lots closed and some office workers went home early, but the rain sprinkled on. The sky was overcast, hazy and tinted blue, but the atmosphere of the parade didn’t match.
Students still eagerly competed for the spirit stick, chanting for their organizations before the start of the parade. Passengers on floats threw candy to onlookers as the parade rolled forward.
The parade started at the Hardin Planetarium, with sororities and fraternities lined up with their floats in front of Cherry Hall and other vehicles along State Street. With the rain picking up and excitement running high, the parade took off toward the Fountain Square.
Floats were led by President Tim Caboni and his wife, Kacy Schmidt Caboni, with Big Red following close behind on a golf cart. As the floats circled around the square, they made their way back up to Cherry Hall via College Street, stopping in front of Cherry Hall to let passengers get off.
Directing the floats were Charlie Pride and Andrew Rash, director and assistant director of student activities, respectively.
“This is a lovely tradition,” Rash said. “Floats are great. We have 30 queen candidates, and that may be a record. Outstanding turnout in terms of the student orgs and band and departments and things like that. I know there’s some rain, but I’m glad we got it in.”
The sun started to set as students abandoned their floats for the path to the Colonnade, but the sky kept its hazy hue as the drizzle kept on. Even as the weather depressed, the student energy stayed positive.
“I think if there were a few more people here, it might be a little bit [better], but energy’s positive,” Rash said. “People are ripping and roaring and having a good time.”
Students straggled onto the Colonnade, one sorority and fraternity at a time, all chanting slogans and motifs of enthusiasm and encouragement. Once on the concrete steps, students clustered with their fraternities and sororities in color coded sweatshirts, singing along to music playing from below.
Behind the conglomeration of fraternities and sororities were students, faculty, alumni and staff that were observing the excitement before them.
“I’ve been excited, actually,” social work junior Danielle Meyers said. “I met a couple down the street that said that they’ve been doing this for 50 years. That was very interesting to me.”
Meyers and her friend, Paola Rivera, observed the mounting emotions on the steps of the Colonnade. As transfer students, the two social work juniors planned to get the most out of their first Homecoming weekend.
“I had to dig for the activity sheet. I feel like a lot of students don’t know about certain activities,” Meyers said. “But, tomorrow, we’re gonna tailgate. We’re gonna go to the game, and then after the game, we’re gonna go to the step show.”
Due to the rain, Ramierez said that she had initially decided not to go to the parade and pep rally, but once Meyers pulled her along, they had fun.
Around the outskirts of the Colonnades, the Big Red Marching Band was spread out, ready to accentuate WKU cheerleaders in the ambience of the pep rally.
“Our main job is making sure that we have our cadence, which is what the drumline plays, and then having the fight song and then maybe something else,” graduate assistant Melissa Valone said. “This year we added ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ which is pretty cool.”
For Homecoming weekend, the Big Red Marching Band is primarily involved in the parade, pep rally and football game.
“For the game, it’s just doing what we normally do, but being extra hyped up because it’s Homecoming,” Valone said.
Along with the sororities, fraternities and football players, the band enjoys Homecoming weekend, Valone said.
“When I marched last year, and the other three years before then, I loved it,” she said.
While pomping and football practice is rigorous leading up to Homecoming weekend, so are the band activities.
“This week, we’ve been doing preparation for Homecoming, for the parade, making sure that we know our song for halftime when the candidates go down, and making sure that all of that is polished and ready to go,” Valone said.
As the excitement picked up, Big Red danced for the crowd and President Caboni spoke words of encouragement, all while the rain was drizzling on and off. Although the air was heavy with moisture and the Colonnade steps were incredibly slippery, the weather didn’t stop students from participating.
“There are so many people down there already, and the tailgate doesn’t even start for another hour.” Louisville junior Trevor Harry, who works for WKU cleaning up after school events, was standing on South Lawn on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning welcomed alumni, students, faculty and staff to the overflowing parking lots and busy sidewalks. The Avenue of Champions was blocked off and the floats from Friday’s parade were on display. Signs signaled the top three winners.
Near Bates-Runner and McClean Halls, the historically Black fraternities and sororities had their tents set up.According to a member of Phi Beta Sigma, their tents were set up there by choice. That’s how it’s always been, and has typically been where the African-American Society of Alumni like to meet in years past.
Every member in attendance, current and former, was decked out in their respective colors: the Zeta Phi Betas and Phi Beta Sigmas in blue, the Alpha Kappa Alphas in green, and so on and so forth. All the colors blended together as people mingled and danced to the music playing.
Down the Hill toward South Lawn, passing the floats and listening to the band practice, food trucks were setting up in the middle of the walkway between Downing Student Union and Minton Hall. The tent belonging to WKU Cheer was abandoned, as its members weren’t there just yet due to a quick practice before the game.
Once on South Lawn, there was a slightly beat up car. For a $3 donation to the Hilltopper Athletic Foundation, tailgaters could smash the car with a sledge hammer five times.
Just beyond the car smash, the Hilltopper Sports Properties’s fan experience tent was there to guide tailgaters in any direction. They said they wanted to keep people at the tailgate, so they were happy to let them know about all of the events and tents.
They were also offering yearbooks, WKU sports magazines, stickers and free wine tumblers for members of the Mint Athletics Club.
Directly behind them, local news broadcasting stations were setting up a stage to cover the game and the tailgate. Not too far from them, right next to Guthrie Bell Tower, WKU’s broadcasting station was setting up to interview President Caboni, Athletics Director Todd Stewart and Volleyball Coach Travis Hudson.
Further down the lawn, more tents appeared, though they thinned out right as the field met the Preston Student and Activities Center. There was a tent for every Greek organization, many schools and departments on campus, the Alumni Association, the football and volleyball associations, and a few selling WKU merchandise. Some tents were set up with their tables and chairs abandoned in the middle, but most were bustling with people, food and music.
The country music, mainly coming from personal fan tents on the periphery, blended with the pop music coming from WKU organizations’ tents, which merged even more with the Big Red Marching Band, which was louder and closer.
Despite all of the music, the excited buzz of the folks setting up their tents was the loudest of all. People delegated where to put chips and how to hang banners. Children perfected Hilltopper cheers for the game yet to come as parents recorded with big smiles on their faces.
Though the ground was sopping wet beyond its capacity, children, adults and all those in between splashed around, preparing and taking part in activities.
The most popular activity at that time was the candy apples and silent auction at theSchool of Media’s tent. According to journalism professor Mac McKerral, all of the items of the auction were donated by faculty. The selection consisted of items like movie posters for movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and archival worthy photos of student move-in days from the 1960s.
Though the tailgate was full of festivities, there was a booth there to keep attendees safe as well. The United Health Services booth, which was run by alumni working in nursing and pharmaceuticals, offered vaccines, for both COVID-19 and flu.
After having to sit out on the fun last year, the Homecoming goers came back more excited than before. Regardless of a pandemic, chilly air and gray skies, tailgating and celebrating the school and its athletic endeavors was of interest to Hilltoppers, past, present and future.
Homecoming Football Game and Coronation
Fans gathered under overcast skies with a wind-chill eating through their bones as they gathered to support WKU’s football team.Fans scattered throughout the stands, and families and students huddled together embracing one another as they celebrated the Homecoming game.
The Big Red Marching Band congregated together, forming an outline of the state of Kentucky. The crowd screamed and exalted before the kickoff as they watched the coin toss – WKU won the toss.
The student section filled with cowboy hats and red button-downs; while up in the stands, friends and families cuddled underneath their WKU blankets and beanies. The energy warmed up the fans as they watched the game unfold.
Students and alumni watched from the sidelines as Ben, a WKU student, made a 30-yard field goal on his first try, winning free Slim Chicken for a year.
Half-time score had WKU leading 28-13 against the Charlotte 49ers. Wind brought a mist with it as the Homecoming queen candidates lined up with their escorts with red and white umbrellas over them.
Sarah Harne, the 2020 Homecoming queen, got ready to crown the next queen.
Second runner-up was Kallie Jo Smith, a senior from Lawrenceburg, majoring in psychology with a minor in child studies.
First runner-up was Ryann Gillespie, a senior from Memphis, Tennessee, majoring in anthropology with minors in history and folk studies.
A moment of silence, excitement and bated breath hung over the stadium as the announcer paused to announce the 2021 Homecoming queen.
Fans screamed and cheered as Abbey Norvell, a senior from Corbin, majoring in journalism with minors in creative writing and sales was crowned queen.
Norvell was embraced by her fellow cheerleaders seconds after being crowned, enveloping the exciting and unified atmosphere of the weekend.
Sitting in the student section, Camille Chandler, a senior majoring in political science, embraced the atmosphere of Homecoming weekend.
“I think the best thing about Homecoming is how all the alumni come back to town, and you get to see all your old friends, which is really great,” Chandler said. “I feel like it just shows how special the WKU community is in general.”
Creeping out behind the clouds, the sun made its warm gaze known for a few needed minutes.
Freshman Mary Starnes shared how she perceived the overall feeling of homecoming weekend.
“I think today’s definitely a different atmosphere because there’s a lot of alumni here for the fraternities,” Starnes said. “It’s a good atmosphere though, I think people are excited. It’s been a good week.”
The warm sunset peaking through the clouds concluded the misty homecoming Saturday on a brighter note. As darkness encroached on the stands, students and alumni watched the last half of the game.
A thrilling and rewarding ending to WKU’s Saturday night came with a striking win against the Charlotte 49ers 45-13.