Homecoming week captures the spirit of the school


Homecoming queen Berhan Getachew with friends

Ten girls in colorful dresses stand in a line on the edge of the track, surrounded by masses of spectators in the stadium. Adrenaline fills the air, as one member from the homecoming court will be crowned queen in a matter of seconds.

“It’s tradition that all the girls run to whoever wins,” said senior and homecoming queen Berhan Getachew. “I was ready to sprint to the girl that [would be] winning and let go of my dad and they called my name and I was just really shocked.”

Previously an event surrounding an easy-to-win sports game where alumni return to campus, homecoming has evolved into an exciting day for everyone. Homecoming week is now a succession of festivities: fundraising, dress-up themes, the dance, and homecoming day, cumulating in a football game and the crowning of the homecoming queen.

Faculty and student leaders always attempt to start homecoming week with competitive spirit and use that energy to reach beyond campus gates. The Thursday before homecoming week, fundraisers began, including Penny Wars, other grade level competitions, and a school supplies drive that supported Middle Eastern refugees in Europe. All were competitions between the grade levels.

Penny Wars, a long-standing tradition at Westminster, involved large translucent blue jars that sat on a table outside a place everyone enters daily, Malone Dining Hall. Students placed pennies into their grade’s jar for positive points and other change and bills into other grades’ jars for the respective amounts of negative points. Since the goal is to have more points than all the other grades, students were motivated to do their best to donate.

In the end, all money raised was given to Habitat for Humanity, an organization headquartered in Atlanta that describes its work as  “partner[ing] with working families, sponsors, and communities to build affordable, green, quality homes.”

Each individual grade also embarked on a light, fun, and motivated service project.Money from these game-like fundraisers went to various charities in the Atlanta community. After the fundraisers started at a slow pace, every effort to encourage students to donate was mostly futile. Student government leaders employed social media and endless verbal reminders.

“Fundraising [didn’t] go as well as we wanted,” said sophomore girls class president Meghna Patel.

For Penny Wars, after the coins were counted and rolled, donations summed a mere $481, almost nothing compared to the previous years’ norm of three to four thousand, according to community service coordinator Stan Moor.

On a higher note, over 40 bags of school supplies, including backpacks, notebook paper, boxes of pens and pencils, spiral notebooks, index cards, safety scissors, and glue sticks were collected across all grades for the Middle Eastern refugees.

Four days after fundraisers began, homecoming week started on Monday with Pajama Day, the first of a series of themed dress-up days.

Student council representatives worked collaboratively to come up with creative and enjoyable themes.

“There [were about] 24 people picking themes… some [themes we] started out with were biomes, salad dressings, [and] fruits and vegetables,” said sophomore boys class vice president Ryan Suddath. “Also, we wanted to do school stereotypes, but that got shot down because no, you can’t dress up as nerds, that’s offensive. I came up with fruits myself. Through the process we narrowed it down to movies.”

Themes this year included “Future Job Day,” “Atlanta Sports Day,” and “Pajama Day.”  On Thursday of homecoming week, Westminster continued the tradition of splitting the dress-up day theme into sub-themes by grade level. This year’s theme for Thursday was movie genres, and the sub-themes were Disney, horror, sci-fi, and sports, for seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, respectively.

Students celebrate Atlanta Sports Day
Students celebrate Atlanta Sports Day

This year, the student government made an overarching focus to make homecoming week, especially the dress-up days, more competitive to encourage participation. To add to the energy of an exciting school week, “spies” from the student body observed everyone’s costumes, playing the role of contest judges. Senior student government co-chairs Billy and Katie McGahan spotlighted strong contenders at Thursday’s assembly, and Wildcats announced winners at Friday morning’s pep rally.

Dress-up themes not only encouraged students to let out their creativity during an academically difficult week, but they also served as a bonding activity between students who don’t normally have any common ground between them.

“I like how people really expand [the themes] to make it include everyone; a lot of people plan matching outfits with their friends and are outside more when they’re dressed up,” said senior girls vice president Mia Pattillo. “People who are wearing similar outfits will [greet] each other. It’s class bonding and it really does bring the community together.”

As the week progressed, students’ excitement increased exponentially. This time, however, it was due to not only the long weekend drawing near but also the homecoming dance on Thursday night from 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. Unlike most schools in Atlanta, homecoming was held on a weekday and was relatively informal. Students donned T-shirts and shorts and arrived at the outdoor dance on Love Patio.

This year for the first time, student government leaders implemented a theme for the homecoming dance: neon. Students could be viewed dancing in celebration of both homecoming and the end of the school week until near midnight, with fluorescent necklaces illuminating the mass of jubilant dancing teenagers.

Friday was homecoming day, the week’s climax. Students arrived at school at 9:00 a.m. and attended a pep rally in Turner.

At the pep rally, after the cheerleaders performed their routine, Wildcats revealed the homecoming king through a series of intentionally-rigged games. Members of the homecoming king court were eliminated first through “Finish the lyrics,” which highlighted an a cappella performance by members of MAC, the men’s a cappella choir. A round of school trivia ensued, followed by a doughnut-eating contest, a running race across the gym in costume, and a contest in which people were pulled on a tarp. At the end, the two remaining seniors, Lee Rolader and Will Benson, “fished” for the crown behind a blue ocean-like tent, and Benson emerged victorious, to the great cheers of spectators in the stands.

Benson is also a member of the national junior baseball team
Benson is also a member of the national junior baseball team

After the homecoming king was announced, everyone responded to the event’s excitement and scattered all over campus. Near Broyles, student bands attracted a large crowd, while in the background groups of friends played sports, chatted, and waited in line for cotton candy. In the far corner of Broyles field, students channeled their elementary school spirit in the inflatable bouncy house.

In far reaches of the campus, some were watching The Incredibles, embarking on service projects, and sorting coins in the Community Service office. Lunch was then served outdoors by Turner Gym. The long lines to receive one’s brown package of food were hardly a burden because less than an hour later, students checked out with their homeroom teachers and headed home.

This year, student government officers, who played a major role in organizing the weeklong celebration, attempted to increase participation across the student body.

“This year’s homecoming [was] a lot more fun because the themes [were] a lot more fun, and the dance [had] a theme,” said Patel.

Homecoming really served as a time for Westminster students and alumni to celebrate that they are all Westminster students.

“Rarely does everyone…have a common characteristic, a way that we can bond, like all of the sophomores dressing up as sci-fi people and laughing about it and that’s totally class bonding,” said Suddath.

On Friday before the game, alumni had a special “Fried Chicken” dinner. Traditionally, the alumni “coming home” to campus was how homecoming originated and was a huge focus for both those returning and the students who anticipated their return.

Although over 500 alumni and their family members returned for the dinner, overall the homecoming of alumni has diminished over the years, and homecoming has shifted to become more of a school spirit event for current students.

To conclude the homecoming festivities on Friday night, many students and alumni all returned to the football field for Westminster’s homecoming game. This year, Westminster’s varsity football gained a 49-16 win over Decatur High School.

However, the game was not the only component of the homecoming game tradition. Another large part of the tradition involved a group of 20 individuals that were carefully selected from the senior class: the girls and boys homecoming court.

“Our grade voted. Everyone got to choose four boys and four girls,” said senior and homecoming court member Cameron Crawford.  “Then they announced it at the assembly, which was a surprise.”

After the Class of 2016 narrowed down the field of candidates, the vote was then opened to the remaining classes, who selected one boy and one girl.

“We wrote our little bios that they read at the football game, [and] everyone [picked] out their dresses and the dads [were] really excited, which [was] really sweet,” said Crawford.

Other members of the homecoming court expressed similar excitement.

“It’s fun; it’s exciting. I’m honored, I’m surprised,” said senior and homecoming court member Benton Wood. “[Homecoming court] is the acknowledgment of the most well-rounded students.”

During halftime, last year’s homecoming queen Gray Woodham, now a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, returned to crown the homecoming queen, Berhan Getachew.

“They were listing a whole bunch of qualities that the court has and I was thinking that all the girls at Westminster have those qualities,” said Getachew. “I just think Westminster as a whole just has a really nice student body… and the qualities that they say just… represent everyone. Westminster’s just a great place. I just really love Westminster.”