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Drexel University’s “winter tradition” — the annual weeklong Homecoming celebration including Spirit Week events, a home basketball game and the crowning of a Royal Dragon — will be forging ahead from Feb. 1–7 despite anything but traditional circumstances.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, planned programming is mainly virtual for health and safety reasons as well as to ensure Dragons living on or near campus or joining in on the fun remotely can engage, take part and take pride.
“We really wanted to keep the tradition going,” said Bryan Ford, assistant athletic director of recreation and Homecoming co-chair, noting that Drexel’s weeklong Homecoming celebration is in its fourth year, and last year’s festivities saw record attendance. “We want to make sure that there is some consistency and continuity in this time of COVID. Any way that we can, as administration, connect students to each other and to the school and to alumni, it's important to host those events and also to keep the pride and in the University.”
Whether on campus or online, current students and alumni will be invited to show their Dragon pride throughout the week through a series of events. Those current students hoping to clench the title of Spirit Week winner for 2021 can still dream it and potentially do it, thanks to inventive planning by organizers in translating most of the annual competition’s regular programming virtual or hybrid.
Though, to start out the week, one in-person tradition will live on: the annual Homecoming Bonfire which will take place from 6–8 p.m. on Feb. 1. Ford said individual-sized fire pits will be set up and spread out across the Race Street Lawn and Spangler Walk, and the number of students coming and going will be monitored to ensure social distancing can be observed. Most students in attendance will leave with the official Homecoming beanie, and will also be gifted a to-go s’more to enjoy on their way out of the event.
“It's an event designed to kind of pass through,” Ford said, citing that organizers wanted to maintain this tradition in-person while limiting some of the pomp-and-circumstance such as the speakers and the main bonfire of years past.
(UPDATE Jan. 29: Unfortunately, the Homecoming Bonfire has been cancelled due to inclement weather.)
The overall Spirit Week competition also needed a different approach for the sake of the times, which is why students will sign up to compete as individuals this year, rather than in teams. They will also automatically be representatives of their academic college or school through the competition, and along with trying to place in individual events, will collect points toward their college or school potentially being crowned winner at the end of the week.
“We figured a lot of student organizations, it would be hard for them to get together and do it as a team component,” Ford said of shifting the competition to be individually based. “It would also be hard for us to really track things team component wise, and we want to make sure that any first-years, as well, would be able to participate.”
Any first-year students or others living on or near campus this term can opt to do the on-campus Scavenger Hunt on Feb. 2, whereas remote students can also participate in a more generalized version to be completed at home. Both will be supported through the GooseChase app. Rounding out the competition events will be a Virtual Variety Show from 8–9 p.m. on Feb. 3 where all attendees can watch and vote for their favorite, as well as virtual Quizzo testing Drexel, Philadelphia and other knowledge on Feb. 4. Students can also attend any Spirit Week events they wish, even if they’re not competing.
Another annual tradition that actually hasn’t changed much in its virtual form is the Homecoming Court, one of which will be crowned the 2021 Royal Dragon. Last year, applications to be on the court reached an all-time high, and organizers hope to see that interest continued this year. The nomination deadline has been extended to Jan. 27 at 5 p.m., and nominations should be submitted via DragonLink.
The Royal Dragon voting will take place throughout Spirit week from 8 a.m. on Feb. 1 through 12 p.m. on Feb. 5. Students should also cast their vote via Dragonlink. The winner will be awarded a $500 scholarship and will be announced during a special Zoom event for all Homecoming and Spirit Week participants before the big game on Feb. 6.
The weeklong celebration culminates this year when the women’s basketball team takes on Hofstra University on home court at 1 p.m. in the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Though the game is closed to attendees, all Dragons are encouraged to support the team by watching the broadcast on NBC Sports Philly or streaming on FloSports. It is being presented by Barnes & Noble at Drexel University.
Sean Joyce, assistant athletic director, external relations, said the Homecoming game is the “biggest sports day of the year” here at Drexel.
“The young men and women of the Drexel basketball programs have sacrificed a lot to be able to play this season,” he said. “They are playing for the name across the front of their jersey and school pride, in an effort to bring some type of normalcy to our University in this unprecedented time.”
(UPDATE Feb. 2: Unfortunately, the due to a COVID-19 infection among the Hofstra team, there was no women's basketball game on Feb. 6.)
An added bonus to the untraditional and yet necessary virtual approach the Homecoming this year is that there is robust alumni programming taking place throughout the week as well. And Ford said current Dragons are invited to join a number of the events, including the Dragons Path to the Pros event at 6 p.m. on Feb. 2 and the Game Night hosted by the Drexel Esports and Gaming Association at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5.
So though it may not be the winter tradition the University has become accustomed to over the last several years, this iteration will still serve the key purpose of bringing the Drexel community together.
“We all need some positive news right now,” said Julia Philips, associate director of communication strategy with Enrollment Management & Student Success. “Especially for first- years who are just starting, I think it's a great way to welcome them to the campus, welcome them to the community, see what we're all about.”
“It’s a sense of normalcy, as well, that students are used to,” added Ford. “To be able to keep that tradition, even if it’s virtual, is important.”