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Student group coordinates Homecoming events

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UIUC pep rally from last year's Homecoming.

UIUC pep rally from last year's Homecoming.

Yiwei Zhang

Yiwei Zhang

UIUC pep rally from last year's Homecoming.

Brooks Berish, Assistant supplements editor

Homecoming is right around the corner, and with it comes a slew of fun, spirit-filled events for students and alumni. Embedded in tradition, these events throughout Homecoming week keep the Illini spirit aflame. The main events that will take place are planned and coordinated by the Students Alumni Ambassadors, a student organization on campus.

Darrien Rose, sophomore in AHS, remembers seeing the work done by Students Alumni Ambassadors as a freshman and being very impressed.

“Last year it was amazing seeing all the different decorations and all the different events being put on by this organization,” he said, “I was like ‘who are these people in these orange polos and how can I become a part of it?’”

When applications to be part of the group opened, Rose interviewed, joined the group, and has worked to put on events such as the Sights and Sounds program during Welcome Week.

In 1979, the Student Alumni Ambassadors started to revitalize the dwindling tradition of Homecoming at the University, and, over time, has helped transform it into what it is today.  Student Alumni Ambassadors consists of more than 85 members, and it has a strong influence on the culture and happenings on campus. Homecoming is one of the largest projects that the ambassadors set up throughout the year.

Rory Johnson, junior in Education, said that the group puts on four major events during Homecoming Week. The Homecoming 5K is on Sunday, which Johnson was a director of in 2015. On Wednesday, Spirit Day takes place on the Quad and includes giveaways for students in Illini gear. On Friday,  Student Alumni Ambassadors coordinates both the Block Party and the Pep Rally, large events which attract students and alumni in town for the game the next day.

There are eight Student Alumni Ambassadors co-directors for Homecoming, with two co-directors per event. Those events are not the only things that the Student Alumni Ambassadors is involved in during Homecoming, but they are the main events that the members are in charge of setting up. Although  Student Alumni Ambassadors is the major group involved in planning Homecoming, other Registered Student Organizations help to make sure everything runs smoothly.

“We don’t do everything with Homecoming, but we have a big part in it,” Rose said, “It’s with the help of a lot of different organizations like the Illini Marching Band who will perform at the pep rally.”

Even though  Student Alumni Ambassadors ends up doing the same events every year, attendees can count on the events being fresh and exciting each year. With new co-directors reigning over the organization of the events this fall, there are bound to be new, interesting changes to look forward to. This year, Mary McDonald, junior in LAS and co-director of the pep rally, is adding her own twists to the events.  

“This year we’re bringing back an old tradition of kicking off the pep rally with a gun salute,” McDonald said, “It was a tradition for decades, so this year I’ve been working with the ROTC to bring that back.”

Bringing back old customs for the pep rally is not the only addition that McDonald has helped in making. She has also been working on a brand new concept that should quickly become a tradition itself.

“Homecoming pop-up tents was something that I helped initiate this year,” she said. “We just asked different groups here on campus, RSO’s, culture houses, sororities and fraternities as well just to help join in the spirit of Homecoming Week.”

These tents will be put up throughout the week with different groups handing out giveaways and holding contests.

With regards to the Pep Rally, the plan is to have as many performances and activities as possible going on in the forty five minutes allocated to get everybody on the Quad pumped up.

“We have different speakers coming in, a cappella groups (as well),” McDonald said. “The Marching Illini will be leading the group into the Quad and will be playing different songs and tunes to keep the crowd riled up …  leading into different Friday events and Saturday’s game.”

If it rains, the Pep Rally will most likely be moved into Foellinger Hall like it was last year. The spontaneity of the new venue and the close-quartered feel of the event led to an even more exciting time that literally shook the building’s foundations.

“It was all so in your face and everyone was so pumped up because everything was so close to them,” Johnson said. “The Marching Illini was in the aisles.”

However, when the weather cooperates and events go according to plan – which they often do when  Student Alumni Ambassadors is in charge of planning – there are a huge variety of activities and spirited traditions to take part in. On Spirit Day, people can showcase their Illini pride by wearing lots of orange and blue and receive tons of free items. At the Block Party, there will be multiple groups and sponsors, such as Insomnia Cookies and Coke, handing out freebies and hosting different games.

“It’s a really fun time (and) I’m really excited for this year,” Rose said. “It’s a very spirited time.”

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