Homecoming royalty Hersey Coles and Nelian Cruz smile after being crowned at Saturday’s Homecoming football game. PHOTO COURTESY OF MILLERSVILLE UNIVERSITY
The Millersville community witnessed the crowning of Hersey Coles and Nelian Cruz as Homecoming royalty at halftime of the football game on Saturday, Oct. 22. Paired with a victory against Shippensburg University, the event proved to be a satisfying conclusion to this year’s festivities.
Often complemented by the Homecoming football game, parties, and the Millersville Community Parade, this weekend of celebration gets people excited each year, but few know about its rich and interesting history. Since it was first held in 1933, Homecoming has been a highly anticipated and extravagant event celebrating the culture and accomplishments of the Millersville students, alumni, and community.
The first Homecoming, also known and advertised as “Alumni Day” invited graduated students of Millersville State Teachers’ College to return to campus on Nov. 11, or Armistice Day, for various events. These included the football game – which coincidentally was also against Shippensburg – followed by a tea reception and formal dinner and performance by the men’s Glee club, then a message given by the President in the chapel. The night concluded with a dance in the gymnasium – now Dutcher Hall – organized by the varsity club.
This event would gain much popularity, not just in Millersville, but also in high schools and colleges across the country, allowing Homecoming to continue nearly every year to this day.
One longstanding tradition that remains at Millersville is the crowning of the Homecoming Queen and King. Much like the weekend-long event itself, the voting and crowning of the royalty have a lengthy and unique history.
Initially known on campus as the Varsity Sweetheart, the Homecoming Queen was first chosen in 1934 at the dance or “drag” of the evening. The Varsity Club, consisting of athletes from Millersville’s various sports teams, selected a female student who they felt embodied the “ideal woman”.
This tradition continued into the 1950s when students grew frustrated with their inability to have a say in who was crowned. Although the Men’s Varsity Club still organized the event and handled the voting process, nominations were open to the entire community, with the finalists chosen by the club members. However, by the late 1960s, fraternities began participating in the Homecoming Queen crowning, with their preferred candidates frequently taking the crown.
Through the late 60s and early 70s, anti-Greek sentiments persisted in the Millersville community as fraternities and sororities began to colonize and grow on campus. To combat this stigma and increase philanthropic outreach among the organizations, the format for selecting the Homecoming Queen was changed. Instead of a specific club voting for a queen to represent the Homecoming season, organizations – specifically sororities and fraternities – would select a sister or sweetheart and a charity of their choice. Between the beginning of the Fall semester and Homecoming weekend, the Greek organizations would raise money for their charity. The sorority that raised the most money would then have their chosen sister crowned as Charity Queen.
The first competition of this kind occurred in 1974 when Mary Hopple of the local sorority Kappa Delta Phi was crowned as Millersville State College’s first-ever charity queen. Their selected charity, Dollars for Debbie, benefited sister Debbie Rogowski, who at the time was recovering from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.
The charity queen competition became a longstanding tradition at Millersville, showcasing students’ dedication to supporting the community and those in need. Although initially reserved for sororities and fraternities, non-Greek organizations would later be invited to participate as well. The first competition to include other clubs was in 1984 when Sheila Stohler of the John Newman Association was crowned as Charity Queen.
The Homecoming charity competition was also not just for women. The 1976 season witnessed the crowning of Larry Sweeney of Sigma Tau Gamma as Charity King, alongside the Charity Queen. This more gender-inclusive alternative to the format would return for good in 1994, with organizations subsequently being permitted to nominate a male or female member to represent them on the court. However, clubs that nominated a man instead of a woman were much more likely to win, as charity king nominees often ran against only one or two other clubs, or were unopposed.
With such a unique approach, many may wonder why the charity competition no longer exists at Millersville. The last known season to crown a charity queen was in 2011 when only two women competed for the crown.
Although no official statement was given regarding the university’s decision to switch to the more common voting format, a variety of factors may have led to the charity competition becoming a fable of the past. The most likely reasons were due to lack of participation, funding, and variety in terms of organizations winning each year.
At the time when the tradition changed, few organizations participated in the charity competition, with only two organizations, Alpha Sigma Alpha and Delta Zeta, competing in the last year. In 2013, Millersville also experienced an 18% budget cut, as well as a multi-million dollar renovation project on the dormitories, which would become the Village Suites.
In addition, there was a recurring pattern in the winning queen. From 2000 until 2010, the sorority Alpha Xi Delta won the charity competition each year. Although they raised up to $15,000 for the Homecoming season, the community may have grown tired of seeing the same organization win each year.
Nonetheless, charity and service remain valued aspects of Homecoming traditions and the community, even if it is no longer the key factor in deciding the Homecoming Royalty. Although nominees no longer have to raise money for charity, they are often involved in organizations that actively participate in philanthropy and service projects.
Although Homecoming has changed over the years, one thing remains constant – a tradition rooted in American history persists to bring together a community based on togetherness and service.