There is more to homecoming than just a football game. If you weren't able to make it back for Homecoming 2014, which had the circus theme "Under the Carolina Big Top," you missed a great show with some memorable "welcome back" moments.
While alumni and their families will have their own special memories of a return trip to campus, United States Army Captain Julius Carmichael III's family will always have a special recollection for this year's event as the 1999 alumnus and Bronze Star recipient surprised his wife and four children on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium with an earlier-than-expected return from his deployment in Afghanistan as part of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport's Military Family of the Game.
"For the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and the University to sponsor my family for this event and allow me to do this, it is very humbling," Carmichael said. "Getting to see my family, be at the game and meet all the people who have been involved in this, it's so humbling to know that soldiers have so much support. My family is who I am. Not being around them is the hardest part."
Of course that wasn't the only reunion of the weekend as alumni of many eras came back for special events such as pep rallies, campus tours, the Homecoming parade, barbecues and get-togethers hosted by various schools and colleges on campus, the 50th year class reunion, as well as traditional events hosted by My Carolina Alumni Association. This included the University Awards Reception hosted by President Harris Pastides on the Horseshoe and the biggest tailgate party of the year with nearly 1,000 alumni and friends under the large tent across from the stadium in Gamecock Park.
"The priority for Homecoming is to plan activities for the classes celebrating reunions so they can recall their days at Carolina," said Lynn Bradley, My Carolina Alumni Association assistant executive director for alumni engagement.
Bradley has been organizing homecoming events at My Carolina for 28 years, and she said the tradition of coming back for homecoming is still alive and well, but the types of celebrations change over time.
"In my early years here, individual class reunions were held all over town," Bradley added. "Now we bring alumni of all ages together under the same tent before the game. Having a great location with the stadium across the street makes the event very fun and festive. With the opening of the Alumni Center next year in the Vista, I think Homecoming will bring more alumni back for the weekend."
There were plenty of memorable moments inside the stadium in addition to the special family reunion. Sophomore Martha Childress, who was shot and paralyzed after a stray bullet struck her spinal cord one year ago while waiting for a taxi in Columbia's Five Points, served as the celebrity starter to lead the "Game-Cocks" cheer to thunderous applause prior to kick-off. William Ellen, a 1951 graduate and 50-year member of the Gamecock Club, was honored as the legendary fan of the game. The Army Air Force World War II veteran was a recipient of the Europe-Africa-Middle East Theater Service Medal with four battle stars for several campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge.
"We have put more emphasis on the presentation of Homecoming this year," said Josh Waters, director of marketing. "For some alumni, this may be the only game they get to each year. There is a lot going on, and it means a lot for them to see old friends and family."
During the game, the crowd was introduced to sophomore Erika Cline, who was recently crowned Miss Teen United States, and alumna Elizabeth Safrit, who was recently crowned Miss United States.
At halftime, the recipients of the University's most prestigious awards were honored. Among the honorees were Alrgernon Sydney Sullivan Award recipient Parker Evatt, '57, and Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and former Gamecock football student-athlete, Donald Bailey, `71. Gamecock women's basketball coach Dawn Staley was also honored, receiving the Honorary Life Membership Award from the alumni association.
"I can honestly say the big draw in coming here was the people," Staley said in her acceptance video. "Anytime you can, not attend a university and they think you've contributed in a way that a family member has, it's a very proud award for me."
As noted earlier, there is more to Homecoming than just a football game, but in case you missed it, the Gamecocks beat Furman 41-10.