Two determined members of the senior class, baseball bat in hand, swung at two piñatas hanging from basketball hoops in Turner Gym. As hundreds of candies with glittering wrappers burst into the air, the crowd, comprised of over 800 students and faculty, cheered loudly for this year’s homecoming king, Jimmy Balloun.
A week filled with festivities ranging from dress-up days to a controversial football game, Homecoming provides students with an opportunity to relish in school pride and bond with classmates. The Thursday before homecoming week, student government officers begin Penny Wars, a competition between the grades to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. Students place pennies in their grade’s jar for positive points and currency of other values for negative points. Over the past couple years, there has been a steady declining trend in participation in Penny Wars.
“Penny Wars used to be a lot more exciting,” said senior co-chair Liz Bailey. “Seniors would make money and go to the bank and get rolls and rolls of pennies to donate, and there [was] lot more money raised for Habitat for Humanity in the past. It’s kind of lost its zest over the years.”
To encourage students to donate money for Penny Wars, student government officers placed posters around campus, posted messages in class Facebook pages, and sent grade-wide emails. Then with the official start of homecoming week came the first dress-up day. This year, themes were Pajama Day on Monday, Safari/Tacky Tourist Day on Tuesday, USA Day on Wednesday, and Westminster Spirit Day on Friday. On Thursday, following tradition, the theme was divided into sub-themes organized by grade. While themes are first approved by the deans and then chosen by class officers, Thursday’s sub-themes allow all students to have input choosing a TV channel to dress up as. Seniors voted first for Disney, juniors voted second for Nickelodeon, sophomores voted third for Cartoon Network, and freshmen dressed up as the History Channel.
Each day class officers photograph three costumed students to be judged, contributing to each grade’s tally of points for the homecoming week competition. Costumes ranged from ordinary school clothes to extravagant robes and makeup to nearly having no clothes. Walking through the halls of the Westminster Schools on Thursday were lifelike imitations of Aladdin, characters from Avatar, Mulan, Russell from UP, and countless others. Generally, more seniors than freshmen dared to participate in the dress-up days.
“As you approach senior year you want to make the most of it and go all out and dress up,” said senior vice president Alexis Fisher.
The spirit of dress-up days also brings the Westminster community together.
“We all laugh at each other’s costumes,” said Fisher. “It’s a really good way to start a conversation with someone you’ve never talked to before.”
Later in the week, Thursday night on Love Patio from 8 to 11:00 p.m., students congregate on the concrete under stringed lights for an energy-filled homecoming dance. Like last year, the dance’s theme was neon glow, but 2016 was the first year class officers set up a table for refreshments including chocolate chip cookies and pretzels. For some, the homecoming dance meant a little bit more than a relaxing night to take a break from intense schoolwork.
“The dance is exciting because senior year, the girls wear their freshman PDC dresses,” said Fisher.
Finally, Friday is Homecoming Day. Devoid of classes, students attend a pep rally where the homecoming king was revealed through a series of rigged games featuring hot dogs, “One Last Kiss,” and unicycles.
“It feels so good. I want to thank everyone who voted for me, who supported me, and all my friends who cheered me on at the games,” said senior and homecoming king Jimmy Balloun.
After the pep rally, students migrated to Broyles Field to listen to an excellent lineup of student bands or participate in service projects around campus.
“The fundraising is an aspect of Westminster that I really admire that we take opportunities to help others, like in Penny Wars,” said Fisher. “I think that’s honestly the most important part.”
While important, involvement fundraising and community service, and student energy during homecoming week as a whole, has unfortunately been on the decline.
“I think we’re still with the same spirits but it’s a little more laid back than it used to be,” said faculty student government advisor Maria Russell. “It was definitely much more intensive, you know, the competition, everything, in the past.”
Students and teachers alike clustered around the source of the music, while others played Frisbee in the field, chatted with friends in circles by the pine straw, or raced through the inflatable bouncy house.
Close to noon, Flik served lunch outdoors, after which students were dismissed, only to return for the homecoming football game at 7:30 p.m. Although homecoming has evolved from being centered around the return of alumni for the homecoming football game and alumni dinner to a school spirit week, the football game retains significant importance. This year, Westminster’s defending GHSA Class AAA state champions faced off against defending AA champions Pace Academy. Because Pace Academy recently moved up a classification, the game is the first-ever matchup between the two schools that are two miles apart. Doubtlessly heated, Wildcats won 49-36 with great fanfare in the stands.
During the game however, some Westminster students brought signs with the words “built not bought,” chanting the slogan over and over as Westminster athletes made impressive plays. The statement is a jab against Pace’s alleged recruiting, which is explicitly banned by GHSA, over the past couple years. Students chanting the phrase was meant to indicate that Westminster students, unlike Pace athletes, worked hard for their success in football.
“Imagine how the [Pace] athletes feel when they’re told the only reason they’re able to go to that school is because Pace is breaking rules,” said junior Joe Billips. “That’s pretty hurtful even if it’s true.”
The controversial signs resulted in a jarring Facebook post followed by a heated comment thread the following day. Pace parent Emily Giffin said that “the minute you start chanting [built not bought] at my team when they are just trying to walk back to their locker room to prepare for the game is just too far…They all put in more hours than you could ever imagine on the field and in the weightroom AND in the classroom.”
Westminster students who attended the game were called to an assembly on Monday afternoon, where they were told to show good sportsmanship but very little else.
“I doubt the chanting and the signs will make a change,” said Billips. “If they won, I’d
understand, but it just seems…immature.”
The scandal added negative energy to the end of an otherwise positive spirit week and homecoming game. Support and encouragement culminated during halftime at the football game, where the girls on the homecoming court, elected by the senior class, lined up on the field in anticipation. Last year’s homecoming queen Berhan Getachew, who is now attending Wake Forest University, returned to crown the homecoming queen.
That night, homecoming court was filled with energy and adrenaline.
“I think everyone who’s on it is phenomenal,” said Bailey.
Members of the court dressed in colorful dresses awaited the crowning of the queen, each hoping that the other would win.
“I think a good homecoming queen is someone who is really approachable and friendly that people feel like they can talk to,” said Fisher. “I don’t think it’s a popularity contest but someone that people think is kind.”
When Grace Kelecki’s name was announced, cheers overtook the stadium.
“I was just shocked,” said senior and homecoming queen Grace Kelecki. “I feel like now, I definitely feel more pressure to be super outgoing and super nice but I think that whoever wins should make an effort to be really friendly to everyone and to be someone really approachable but not someone who’s scary or anything.”
Despite the controversial football game, homecoming week served to bring the Westminster community together in celebration.
“The role is pretty much to bring the community together, to welcome a new school year, to celebrate all the amazing accomplishments that our students do,” said Russell. “We have incredible people here and I’m not talking just about athletes and in every area that you can think of we have very accomplished and talented students: arts, music, theatre, robotics, it’s just amazing… we bring the school spirits up. It’s just an opportunity to celebrate our school.”