Steps to a Successful Homecoming

More than one hundred years after the first Homecoming was celebrated on the college level, Homecoming is now well-entrenched as a traditional fall activity at most high schools in the United States. Over the years, Homecoming spirit week in secondary schools seems to have lost the primary focus of inviting alumni back to visit their alma mater and typically has become an extravaganza that involves many people in a variety of activities designed to raise school spirit. It often includes class competitions, spirit dress-up days, a pep rally, a bonfire, election or selection of “royalty,” a parade, a dance, and other activities—all of which can be overwhelming for the activity adviser responsible for supervising Homecoming’s organization. If you find yourself charged with organizing any part of Homecoming, follow these tips to make the process go smoothly. 

Start planning as early as possible. Athletic directors usually establish sports schedules in the spring or summer for the following year, but you don’t need to know the date of the Homecoming game to begin preliminary planning. Theme selection and basic outline of activities for the week can all be done in May or June for the following fall, and theoretically student leaders can begin planning over the summer. At the very least, getting an early start with the basics will enable your group to begin serious planning right away at the beginning of the school year. 

Set goals for the week. As with other activities, it’s a good idea to begin by determining what you hope to accomplish with all the hubbub of Homecoming. Are you trying to build class unity? Show school pride? Reconnect with alumni? Establish stronger ties with the community? The activities you select to carry out will be influenced by the goals you have in mind. 

Connect with other groups involved in Homecoming. Other groups on campus also have important roles to play in spirit week. For example, the marching band will likely have a halftime show and the pep band will play a role in your pep rally and bonfire. The cheerleaders and other spirit leaders will have routines to show off. Coaches and athletes will be getting ready for their big games. Various other groups might be planning activities and fundraisers. To avoid conflicts between plans and to facilitate communication, establish a steering committee to guide all the events and create a master plan. Keep communication open and be sure all groups involved know what is planned. 

Select a theme. The trick to selecting a Homecoming theme is to pick something that offers a wide variety of choices in developing spirit days, activities, parade floats, and dance decorations. A good theme provides a unifying element that ties all the activities of the week together. When deciding on a theme, keep these things in mind:

• Will there be enough variation so that each class will be able to develop distinct elements? For example, “The Games Seahawks Play” provides ample opportunity to develop sub-themes such as board games, card games, sports games, TV games, and so forth.

• Will you be able to develop noontime and pep rally activities to correspond with the theme?

• What kind of spirit dress-up days will be inspired by the theme?

• Will the theme work with dance decorations? What colors will be predominant?

• Can you think of a catchy slogan to use? For example, instead of just the topic “cartoons” use a phrase like “Mustangs ‘Toon It Up.”

• Will the theme present your school in a positive manner to the community? 

Establish committees. Following the adage that “people support that which they create,” the more people who are involved in planning Homecoming activities, the better the participation in your events will be. Instead of relying on a few key people to do all the work, engage as many people as possible in committees and subcommittees. Typical committees for Homecoming include:

• Spirit days

• Class competition

• Pep rally

• Bonfire

• Service project

• Fundraisers

• Court & coronation

• Dance

• Parade

• Alumni activities

Set a budget. Without a guideline of how much money is available for Homecoming activities, it’s easy to go overboard on expenses. As a starting point, look at previous Homecoming expenses and income, if possible. Calculate how much revenue you have to work with from all sources—dance ticket sales, concessions, spirit fundraisers, etc.—and estimate all the areas in which your group will have expenses. If the expenses exceed your revenue projections, you can either figure out how to trim costs so they are in line with revenue, or figure out how to increase the revenue by doing things like raising the ticket price, seeking donations for needed supplies, or selling ads for a program. Once the overall budget is determined, be sure to let each committee know what its part of the budget entails. 

Let student leaders lead. It’s often easier just to tell students what needs to be done or do it yourself, but that approach often leads to adviser burnout—one person just can’t handle everything involved in planning Homecoming. If you take the extra time to teach student leaders how to break a project down into the steps that need to be accomplished, pull all the elements together to make the project happen, and hold them responsible for carrying out their plans, you will end up with student leaders who can apply those skills in many situations after Homecoming is over. Used as an on-the-job training opportunity, Homecoming can make your job as the adviser a bit easier for the rest of the year as student leaders look for new opportunities to practice their leadership skills. 


Planning Checklist

  • Check with athletic director to determine date of Homecoming game and opponent
  • Identify key people and groups to involve in planning
  • Determine steering committee members
  • Select a theme
  • Determine activities to include in the week’s events
  • Create a planning timeline
  • Set a budget for each activity and for the week
  • Establish committees and committee chairs for each activity/event
  • Reserve facilities needed
  • Submit custodial requests
  • Order supplies for various events/activities: dance decorations, coronation items, parade materials, etc.
  • Create volunteer schedules
  • Publicize spirit week activities through local media outlets and social media
  • Develop a social media plan to build a buzz
  • Carry out your plans