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Home Sweet Home: Former Students' Return to Campus, Parade and Football Make for a Memorable Homecoming Weekend

(This story is a compilation of material collected by 14 Old Dominion University student journalists. Thank you to Riley Angel, Claude Dargan, Lateesha Gloston, Gina Lucy, Quinton Crawley, Erika Primdahl, Brittany Farmer, Diane Dougherty, Morgan Malone, Rachel Chasin, Ari Gould, Chimone Tabron, Jeonghee Han and Tara Rountree for their enthusiasm and energy.)

There's no place like home.

The Old Dominion campus was packed to overflowing on Saturday, Oct. 15, as the university celebrated Homecoming. Alumni from across the decades (including the class of 1961, celebrating its 50-year reunion) mingled with students, faculty, staff and community residents on a beautiful fall day, bringing the campus to life.

After a spirited parade and an enthusiastic tailgate, our ODU Monarchs dropped a heartbreaker to Towson, 38-35, in a wild football game. But the loss didn't put the damper on a spectacular day.

"Big Blue Wave" was the theme for this year's Homecoming celebration, and it couldn't have been more appropriate. Our student reporters couldn't turn around without bumping into a former student, faculty member or just someone who hadn't been to campus in a while. Almost in unison, their reaction to the explosive growth of the campus was, "Wow!"

As the sun rose over Foreman Field, the day had the feeling of big things happening, even though relatively few people were out and about.

Jayven Gonzalez and EmmyLou Dullas didn't have the luxury of sleeping in. The two ODU students worked frantically with fellow members of the Filipino American Student Association and Asian Pacific American Student Union to get their float ready in time for that morning's Homecoming Parade.

"We really shouldn't have waited until the last minute," Gonzalez said with a smile, as team members decided if they could affix Tiki Torches to their Hawaiian-themed float. Gonzalez said the groups teamed up to create a float for the parade, "because we really wanted to contribute to the ODU community. It's fun, too."

This year's Homecoming Parade was the biggest ever, with more than 80 entrants, including full marching bands from half a dozen area high schools. It seems everything has gotten bigger at Old Dominion University, and William Henley, an event staffer for stadium management company Global Spectrum, has been there to witness the growth.

Henley grew up in the area and has worked ODU events for more than 30 years. He's a big supporter of the Monarch football team.

"Since football began at ODU, the focus on Homecoming has been so much bigger," Henley said. "Homecoming really needed something to anchor it, and football has become that anchor."

As the campus has grown and become more residential, Henley said he's seen firsthand how important it is to the social fabric of ODU. Football and Homecoming are especially great because "everyone wants to feel a part of something bigger than they are."

By the time the parade started at 11 a.m., the weather was gloriously sunny and warm. Club and Greek organization floats depicting the "Big Blue Wave" theme drew enthusiastic cheers, and the bands played upbeat marching songs that had the crowd moving to the music.

As she climbed aboard the Big Blue-themed float by Delta Zeta and Theta Kappa Epsilon, transfer student Bridget Lane remarked how much more intimate the experience of homecoming is at her new school. "I transferred to ODU from Virginia Tech, and I like it much better because it's much smaller, close-knit and personal," Lane said.

Alums Ken Danser (criminology '78) and Rob Wilber (accounting '00) go to every ODU home football game, and can't believe how much the campus has changed since they attended the university.

"Before, there was no school spirit and students would wear apparel from other colleges," said Wilber. "Now there is increased school pride, especially since the football team started."

The parade participants ranged from Shriners driving tiny replica NASCAR cars, to antique vehicles, to ROTC members, to ambitious student-built floats. Student Harry Britton said his Theta Chi/Phi Kappa Tau team stayed up until 5 a.m. on the morning of the parade to finish their float, which had a surfing Monarch creature made of papier-mache.

As the parade wound down, the focus shifted to pregame activities. Parking lots within a mile of the stadium filled up, as fans played the beanbag-toss game cornhole, drank beverages and ate an impressive array of grilled meat.

Many alumni visit the campus once a year for Homecoming. It's their chance to catch up and reminisce with former classmates and friends.

There is a contagious sense of pride from all of the current, past and future Monarchs. Several families we spoke with said that they have never missed an ODU game - home or away - and will always be there to support their alma mater.

The central gathering place for pregame activity is Kaufman Mall. On their way to the stadium, the Monarch Marching Band and the players march through a wall of ODU supporters, cheering their every step. The football players really interacted with the crowd, proud to be a part of the Monarch football team. The band got the crowd to a fever pitch, playing the ODU Fight Song as the players marched by.

In contrast, the 32nd annual ODU Sports Hall of Fame luncheon was a calm, semiformal celebration of ODU Athletics. You could never tell that there was tailgating, a parade and other Homecoming events going on outside the Big Blue Room.

Fans expressed their appreciation for the contributions of Tiffany Snow (field hockey), Hamchetou Maiga-Ba (women's basketball), Tim Hummel (baseball), Geoff Harris (men's golf) and Keith Thomas (men's basketball).

Though it was a quieter event, the Homecoming spirit seeped into the Hall of Fame luncheon as well. "It's very packed," said Courtney Livesay, who was back on campus for her first Homecoming since graduating.

The pregame party slowly wound down, as the sold-out white-clad crowd made its way to Foreman Field for the big game. Always a big game, the Homecoming tilt took on extra importance as both Old Dominion and Towson entered the contest ranked in the country's top 25 of the Football Championship Subdivision.

After a military flyover, Towson kicked off in front of a roaring ODU crowd, the passion of Monarch pride at full throat.

Towson quickly scored a touchdown, and was leading 14-7 after the first quarter. But ODU scored early in the second quarter to tie the game, and took the lead halfway through the quarter on a long touchdown pass from rookie sensation quarterback Taylor Heinicke. The game went back and forth, but the visitors from Maryland scored two late touchdowns to win it.

In the stands, fans screamed and yelped in reaction to each exciting play. As the score swelled, their enthusiasm intensified, and they swung their commemorative ODU Homecoming 2011 towels, urging their team on. The stands, covered in white, rang as fans showed their love for the Monarchs.

In the president's suite, distinguished alumni and honorary alumni sat and cheered on the Monarchs as well. Honored the night before, the former students showed their support for the school some had not been back to in more than 25 years.

"ODU has become even more beautiful and spirited since the time I graduated," said Wendy Bahr '83, who received a bachelor's degree in administration and communication, and is the senior vice president of Global and Strategic Partners for Cisco.

At halftime, the Homecoming court was interviewed, expressing pride in their school, and speaking about how they enjoyed the experience. Sydney Sheppard and Corey Pleasants were elected homecoming queen and king, and the ODU sailing team was announced as the winner of the Homecoming Parade float competition.

The football game didn't turn out like the home fans were hoping. But even though they were disappointed with the heartbreaking loss, fans still spoke with joy about their day back "home."

Aside from the final two minutes of the game, ODU fans greatly enjoyed Homecoming. As Monarch fans walked back to their tailgating stations, they continued to talk about the day's festivities. Families and friends were hugging, holding hands and saying their goodbyes. Alumni, current students and fans continued to remark about how great and alive the campus was throughout the day.

"I really loved Homecoming. All of the organizations came out with their very best. Although we lost the game, ODU spirit still filled the campus," said Robbie Mac, an ODU senior.

No matter what the outcome of the games, the ODU Monarchs will always be our home team.

This article was posted on: October 17, 2011

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