First published in the Oct. 30 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
Homecoming, the beloved high school tradition, often is considered a rite of passage for many teenagers and usually entails a sports event, parade and semiformal dance. But what if a school is without a sports team?
For Clark Magnet High School, homecoming was a convention admired only from afar until activities director Shari Scott-Sawyer suggested bringing the essence of the tradition to campus, even though it’s a no-sport school.
The result was an impressive display of school spirit when, after 23 years, Clark’s first full-blown, in-person homecoming became a reality outside the campus’ amphitheater in La Crescenta with the theme “Under the Stars.” The site was festooned to the max with twinkly lights, columns of black and gold balloons, decorative lanterns hanging from pillars, tablecloth-covered lunch benches and sparkly centerpieces, all welcoming students to a special night full of memories.
Approximately 700 students and guests attended the Associated Student Body-organized dance, and there likely would have been more students present had there not been a deadline to help organizers keep a consistent head count. According to Scott-Sawyer, the school had to cut off ticket sales to finalize the catering order with Jersey Mike’s, which provided individually packaged sandwiches for the event.
“We didn’t know how many students would want to participate,” she said. “It was crazy. The number of students kept going up.
“Because we are a magnet school, our students on campus wanted a ‘normal’ high school experience, and I think homecoming is one of those experiences,” Scott-Sawyer added. “They just never had the opportunity to participate in it.”
One student who yearned for the full high school experience was freshman class President Charlotte Fernandez, who picked out her metallic-blue dress with a flouncy skirt weeks ahead of homecoming. Her mother curled her hair for the occasion and made by hand a corsage with white roses before sending her off to the dance.
“I loved picking out my dress, shoes and having my mom do my hair,” she said. “It felt like a big deal and it was. It was a magical night, and I’m super grateful to have been able to experience such a thing.”
Despite required protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including wearing face masks and showing vaccination status or a negative test 24 hours before the event, students said it felt like a typical homecoming. Fernandez noted that the dance fulfilled much of her homecoming dreams.
“Homecoming was special to me because it was my first official high school dance being in a new grade, at a new school and with new people,” Fernandez said. “Like me, some students may have been to dances before but have only ever seen a high school homecoming in movies, so to be able to experience such an event that most people have probably fantasized about — the same way that I did — was really cool. I loved being a part of it all.”
ASB President Andrew Avanessian, a senior, said his favorite part about homecoming was sharing the enjoyment of the dance with the rest of the student body.
The school had originally planned for its first homecoming to take place last year, but an online version of the event was ultimately substituted due to the pandemic.
“I think the fact that we were even able to pull it off for the first time was a really rewarding experience, especially after returning from a year of being completely online,” Avanessian said. “Seeing it happen during my last year and experiencing homecoming at least once was more than enough for me. It was very special.”
In addition to dancing to the DJ’s playlist, activities including giant Jenga, yard pong, board games and card games were on display.
“The kids really had so much fun hanging out with each other and dancing and just being kids,” Scott-Sawyer said. “Kids haven’t had the chance to be kids [during the pandemic] and this is one of the things they did to jump back into the world of being high school students.”
She said the school plans to carry on the homecoming tradition and expand how Clark can continue to celebrate the event outside of its traditional box.