Homecoming usually entails a themed student spirit week, elections to Homecoming Court, a highly-anticipated football game and the chance for hundreds of Mercer University alumni to return to campus to gather with former classmates and celebrate their alma mater.
This year, however, the threat of COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in those plans.
When the Southern Conference canceled all fall conference sports competitions Aug. 13, including the Homecoming game, Mercer had to choose a new date and an out-of-conference opponent, according to Jill Kinsella, associate vice president for the Office of Alumni Services and executive director of the Alumni Association.
“With a new game against Abilene Christian University scheduled for Oct. 31, the university is taking that opportunity to allow some of the usual student-focused traditions, such as Homecoming Court, to proceed,” Kinsella said.
The Homecoming celebration was previously scheduled to take place Nov. 6-8 but has been shifted to Oct. 29-31 to reflect the revised football schedule, according to a press release from Mercer University.
“After much discussion and consideration, and at the risk of disappointing those who were looking forward to November, we have decided that our Homecoming 2020 plans for alumni and friends were not feasible due to the current environment,” Kinsella said in the release.
Because Homecoming typically draws hundreds of people to campus for large gatherings, Kinsella said that many of the events previously planned for the alumni had to be cancelled.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, caused many of our alumni to be cautious about travelling and socializing,” she told The Cluster. “Social distancing would have been very difficult to achieve for that many guests, so we are foregoing the traditional indoor alumni events, including class reunions, the Half Century Club Luncheon, the Annual Alumni Awards Dinner, the Annual Alumni Career Speaker Series and others.”
Some groups of alumni may independently host small, socially-distanced gatherings, she said, but none have been confirmed.
Mercer has not yet decided on protocols for alumni regarding ticketing and tailgating for the football game.
Overall, she said alumni—while disappointed—have responded well to the event cancellations.
“There has been widespread support for our decision to forego those events this year,” she said. “They appreciate the safety considerations, and they trust that we will make up for lost time when we are able to gather again.”
Kinsella’s office plans to host a normal Homecoming again in 2021.
“If there is an opportunity to gather before then, we will certainly consider it,” she said. Further Homecoming updates will be posted to Mercer’s Homecoming webpage as they occur.