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Alumni return to a brand new 'U'

RANDY METCALF/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Students involved in the Homecoming court as well as Bobcat members spent the early afternoon Tuesday playing in the mud. The mud pit was one of many activities organized to celebrate Homecoming.
By Elizabeth Thompson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 7, 2003

More students involved in Homecoming

Mary Hines from the class of 1951 has attended over 20 Homecomings, but she doesn't necessarily come for the spirited parades and bonfires.

Hines, a former member of the UA women's tennis team, said she has ulterior motives.

"I want to see if they look older than I do, and fatter" she said of her former classmates.

This weekend Hines will be one of thousands of alumni, students, and members of the community who will return to the UA in the spirit of Homecoming, which has been going strong for nearly 90 years.

Just as Hines returns to the UA to see how the faces of classmates have changed, other alumni return to see the changing face of their old stomping grounds.

'There were only two roads'

Many of the changes made to the UA campus in the recent past might have been unimaginable to students attending the UA years ago.

This will be the first time for many alumni to enjoy the Student Union Memorial Center, completed in February. It is the largest student union in the country and boasts more retail and dining space than ever before.

The Integrated Learning Center, another recent addition, supplies students with an underground computer hub connecting the Mall to the Main Library.

Today ground will be broken for the Alumni Plaza and three medical facilities in the Arizona Health Science Center, construction projects that promise to change the look of campus even more.

George Genung, who graduated in 1947, said that today's campus is a bit confusing.

"I don't recognize (the campus) all the time," he said.

Genung said that when he attended the UA, it was easy for him to find his way around campus.

"You knew where you were going and how you got there," he said. "There were only two roads going in and out of campus."

Genung was a member of the swim team and played baseball and basketball for the UA. He is a Hall of Fame member, and his wife, who he met at the UA, was a letterwoman.

Despite all the changes, Genung said he does not feel ostracized. He has made it a point to attend nearly every Homecoming since he graduated.

"It's a privilege to come back and see some of the fellas from the '40s when I was pitching for McKale," Genung said.

President Peter Likins said that older Wildcats returning to campus have had positive things to say about the physical changes such as the ILC and the union because they understand the changes are for the students.

"Most of the changes we're making are student-focused," said Likins. "There's a student-centered quality to it."

Student-centered celebration

Homecoming will also have a student-centered quality to it this year.

Angie Ballard, program director for Homecoming, reunions and special events, said that the number of student organizations hosting events this year is up from last year.

For Greek Life and other large student clubs, participation in the parade has become a Homecoming tradition.

Journalism and creative writing junior Marc Viscardi, president of the Chain Gang Junior Honorary, said that the yellow school bus the club rides in through the parade has become a symbol for the group and alumni.

"Alumni always remember the bus," Viscardi said. "They come and watch, and I'm sure they remember all the fun they had riding in the parade in the past."

Viscardi said that getting involved in Homecoming is important for student clubs and organizations.

Raja Thiru/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Pre-education sophomore Herman Lee participates in the hot dog eating competition held on the Mall Thursday afternoon. The competition was part of the Club Olympics, organized by ASUA.

"It's nice to see people from Chain Gang come back, it lets you keep the tradition alive," he said.

Peter Wand, ASUA spirit director, said that it is the students who are involved around campus who keep Homecoming alive.

"The more students are involved, the more they want to come back," Wand said.

Although student involvement in Homecoming has been high, some say they have seen a drop in attendance.

Craig Lowden, a 2000 graduate in charge of Homecoming events for the Kappa Sigma fraternity, said that the levels of participation among alumni usually fluctuates, but that the fraternity has seen an overall decrease in recent years.

"We usually have a good chunk of people," Lowden said. "Those numbers can fluctuate a little, with the down-turning economy. Bad football hurts a little bit."

For some students, an interest in Homecoming can seem reserved primarily for those only involved in greek life, sports or large student clubs.

Lindsay Keefer, a retailing and consumer sciences junior, said that she is one of the students who feels no connection to the Homecoming tradition.

"I didn't even know it was Homecoming week until yesterday," Keefer said.

Phillip Fung, an undeclared freshman, said he didn't know it was Homecoming week either until he saw the activity on the Mall.

Homecoming history

Not only does the UA Mall have a different look now, but Homecoming traditions have also undergone changes since they first began in 1914, when the UA became the first school in the west to hold a Homecoming.

Held on Thanksgiving Day in 1914, the first Homecoming game was played on a field adjacent to the UA Main Gate at North Park Avenue, where the Arizona State Museum now sits. About 1,500 spectators are thought to have attended, watching from cars and horse-drawn buggies parked along the sidelines.

Students at the UA today might have a hard time picturing such a low-key scene, as Homecoming now includes a football game attended by more than 40,000 people in Arizona Stadium.

In 1947, students saw the dawn of one of UA's most popular Homecoming traditions, when sophomore Ruth Tackett was elected to be the first Homecoming queen.

Homecoming kings were not elected until 1983, and the tradition of crowning royalty during the bonfire pep rally on the Friday night before the game did not become a tradition until 1988.

This year, students voted for Homecoming royalty for the first time online.

The Homecoming parade, which started in 1929, featured student-built floats that were driven around the newly built stadium track.

In the late 1940s the parade moved downtown where members of the community lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the Homecoming queen and the stream of intricately constructed floats.

The parade moved back to the Mall in the mid 1970s and today it is considered to be the largest Homecoming parade in the nation, in length and number of participants.

Though parade routes have varied over the past few years due to construction, this year's route will begin on North Campbell Avenue and proceed down the Mall toward Old Main, where it will circle back around.

Despite all the changes, the spirit of returning alumni remains high.

Norma Don, who graduated in 1955, said after she left the UA she wanted to preserve her closeness to the university.

"I enjoy being a part of the UA," Don said. "I feel like I never actually left."

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