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ETSU celebrating Homecoming in spring, marking return to greater in-person activity

JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State University students and alumni were disappointed to not be able to celebrate Homecoming as usual in the fall for the 2020-21 academic year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but as the world, nation, state and university gradually begin moving toward normalcy, students can “click their heels” and say, “There’s No Place Like Homecoming!” this spring.
 
Homecoming activities are getting underway this week after several months of preparation for this spring’s observation of the annual celebration, which runs from April 10-17. With the exception of some activities being virtual, and of course, spring flowers rather than fall leaves coloring the natural surroundings, Homecoming will not look very different in the spring than fall.
 
Even though the traditional Homecoming football game was cancelled when the rival team from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga ended its season early due to COVID-19, a variety of in-person activities for students will be held throughout the week. These include concerts, a field day event, “doggy yoga,” a cornhole tournament and Canned Food Creations, in which student groups build structures based on the Homecoming theme using canned foods that will be donated afterward to Second Harvest Food Bank.
 
Students are experiencing a special excitement for this spring Homecoming following the past year of virtual classes and extracurricular programming.
 
“It was kind of strange to not have a Homecoming in the fall,” said Caleb Atkins, Student Government Association secretary of state. “Since high school, I’ve always been a part of Homecoming and always loved to see what’s going on with it. I love going to the game and things like that. It seems like the greatest opportunity for people on campus at any particular school to get to be together and show their school pride in a way that I don’t think is displayed in any other way during the school year.”
 
As a transfer student from Durham, North Carolina, whose community college did not have sports or celebrate Homecoming, Morgan Colley was also disappointed not to get to experience this special celebration in the fall. But along with Atkins, Colley — the staff programmer for Buctainment, the ETSU student activity programming board — has been working with other students in planning this spring’s festivities. “It’s definitely exciting to look forward to Homecoming over the next couple of weeks,” she said.
 
Student planners chose the theme for the week’s celebration with particular care.
 
“We met a lot in December and went through a few different theme ideas,” Atkins said. “We talked about trying to find something that was a play on COVID, like ‘MASK-erade’ or something like that. But then we thought people might be sick of that and not want the jokes — they might not want to remember that forever. Then we talked about making fun of being out of 2020. We thought about making it like we all just woke up from a dream — like ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ could be ‘We’re not in 2020 anymore.’ And those thoughts related to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ led to ‘There’s No Place Like Homecoming!’ We unanimously decided to go with that.”
 
The theme’s natural allusion to the legendary film’s “Yellow Brick Road” fits perfectly with the gold (and blue) of ETSU’s Pride Walk, a paved walkway extending through the center of campus which, for several years, has been painted regularly by student organizations for Homecoming and other major campus happenings, including ETSU Pride Week at the beginning of each school year, Civility Week in the spring, and more.
 
In addition to the Pride Walk painting, student organizations and campus offices and departments have been painting banners to be hung on the walls of the ETSU parking garage facing the large parking lot where several events will be held, and candidates for the Homecoming court have been campaigning for voting now underway, with winners to be announced on Monday, April 12, which is the official opening day of the celebration.
 
Although some of the week’s events will be virtual, one of the most significant aspects of the spring Homecoming celebration is that it marks an uptick in ETSU’s efforts to safely return to in-person programming.
 
Some activities have already been taking place on campus with strictly limited attendance in recent months, and the numbers allowed to attend certain events are beginning to increase for Homecoming.
 
“The largest events we’re going to have are two outdoor concerts and ‘silent disco’ three evenings in a row, and we got approval for up to 392 students for each of those events,” said Carter Warden, director of Student Activities and Organizations at ETSU. “There’ll be four in a 10-foot circle, and the circles will be 12 feet apart, in the CPA (Basler Center for Physical Activity) front yard. We also have about the same capacity for the drive-in events. We’re going to have a drive-in movie showing of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and the virtual skit competition will be shown like a premier movie. We can get up to 112 cars and four to six people can come in a car. People will have the choice to bring chairs or blankets and sit next to their cars, which is different from last semester, so I’m real excited about that.”
 
“We are really excited to get to have some things in person, and the virtual things will hopefully be as engaging as they can be,” Atkins said. “I’m hoping that participation will be as high as possible for all the events. I think also that students are ready to have in-person events again, even if we still have to follow COVID protocols like we are, with social distance, capacity limits, wearing masks and things like that. They’re just ready to be back in person with their friends rather than over a Zoom call.”
 
For the complete Homecoming schedule, visit etsu.edu/homecoming/. For ETSU’s complete, updated COVID-19 guidelines, visit the “Bucs Are Back” website at etsu.edu/coronavirus.

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