Rolling out of bed to the sounds of the marching band on JFK Street, I thought that this past Saturday was going to be a football game like any other.
Granted, with the visiting Princeton team was only sporting a 0-2 record this year, I knew that things would be a little different. But who doesn’t like watching your team demolish a foe that has been a perennial obstacle in each of the last three years on the road to the Ivy League championship? It was going to be a great day, and an epic win.
But as I stood on the sidelines ready to watch the Crimson stomp all over the Tigers, something else was very different as well: the stands were empty.
As Princeton’s Ben Bologna kicked off the start of the game, there were zero people in the stands in front of me. Z-E-R-O in all of Section 35—the traditional student section.
This is something I have never seen before in my time at Harvard (and as Saturday marked the 100th game that I’ve cheered for the crimson and white, I’ve seen quite a lot). Sure, some freshman and their parents filed in during the middle of the first quarter, but no fans for the first minutes of the game was a new low for Harvard. Making matters even worse: this weekend was Homecoming.
If my estimates are correct (and the brain break crowd at Kirkland dining hall comprises a sufficient sample of the Harvard student body), approximately 60% of you are saying to yourself, “Wait, Harvard has a Homecoming?” Yes we do, and yes, it was this past weekend. Organized by the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), Homecoming was a complete failure. There were no student-centered events, no flyers, not even a banner at the game that heralded its significance. Unless you were involved with the game or had recently-graduated friends pass on information from the alumni mailing list, Homecoming robably flew right under your radar.
Remembering Homecomings that were done right—those back in the days of high school, with parades and dances and Pep Rallies—I was even more disheartened with Harvard’s failed attempt. Like the decisions to end hot breakfast and put those ugly chairs in the Yard, the exclusion of students from the Homecoming loop appears to be another major administrative mistake.
Bernie Zipprich ’09-’10, a transfer student from nearby Boston College, has seen both the best and worst of sports culture.
“I heard of homecoming through the alumni network and from friends who had graduated,” Zipprich said. “I didn’t hear much through the students unfortunately.”
This ignorance of Harvard’s first Homecoming in years also penetrated into the alumni population. J. Archer O’Reilly III, a defensive back for the ’65 Crimson, has rarely missed a Harvard football game during the past half decade. Yet, O’Reilly first learned of Homecoming during a reference in the band’s pregame show, and after speaking with other Harvard sports alumni, found that they too were out of the loop.
“[Homecoming] was a well-kept secret,” O’Reilly said. “I’m old enough to remember when Homecoming was a big deal—[the HAA] seem to be building this as an alumni event, which is unfortunate because Homecoming should be an undergraduate-centered event.”
While Harvard’s first attempt at Homecoming afforded little incentive for current students to ever want to come back for this event, the HAA may be on to something. Just as the annual Night Game has provided an unmatched beacon of Harvard school spirit, a properly managed Homecoming might be able to similarly stimulate student sports culture.
Recent graduate Danielle Rutherford, one of five members of the class of 2008 that attended the event, has a remedy.
“I don’t think anyone knew what [Homecoming] was, or what it was supposed to be,” Rutherford said. “Give a reason for it.”
If Homecoming is expanded to the undergraduate population in the coming years, the reason to return may become apparent. Until then, the Crimson faithful will have to endure the embarrassment of a vacant student section and a slipshod tradition.
—Staff writer Alexandra J. Mihalek can be reached at email@example.com.