by Margaret Sizemore-Clark
Back in my day, meaning when I was in my teens, Homecoming at my high school was a BIG deal. It was always celebrated in October, and alumni came from far and wide to attend…well, at least from Bakersfield where most of the local kids attended junior college. All sorts of special events took place during the week, culminating with THE GAME. It seemed as if the entire town was jammed into the bleachers and were ready to root The Burros on to victory. Yes, our high school’s mascot was a burro because the first commanding officer of the Navy base where I lived was named Sherman E. Burroughs.
The days leading up to the game were bursting with activities where each class fought for bragging rights against the other classes. For example, each class was responsible for building a class float. Floats were constructed from wood, cardboard, chicken wire, billions of napkins, and were built in someone’s back yard. Each day after school class members would work on their respective floats, shaping them into inspiring homages to the football team, and glorifying their ability to beat Friday night’s opponent. I personally spent hours stuffing paper napkins into the holes of chicken wire, so that when our creation was ready to be unveiled (and providing that the wind had not blown the napkins into the next county) it would be something that would evoke ooohs and ahhhs from the other classes. At the end of the week the floats were assembled on the football field, judged by the faculty, and the winning class announced.
Establishing athletic prowess was not just for the football team. Homecoming meant that the girls in each class could form teams and square off against the other classes in basketball and flag football. These teams were referred to as “Powder Puff” teams. (Definitely prior to Title IX.). Each team held practices, then would compete against each other in several games. Class pride was undoubtedly the motivation for the girls: The lowly Freshman team went up against the more-experienced Sophomores. The Juniors did the same, challenging the almighty Senior team until ultimately there were only two teams left to duke it out on the gym’s basketball court or on the football field. The games were well-attended and were just as exciting as the boys’ games.
Many of the girls from all the classes were members of the Pep Club. During Homecoming Week, they busied themselves making posters and signs, which appeared all over the campus.They decorated the field on game night, adding color and pizazz to the atmosphere.They practiced hand routines that were performed from the bleachers as the band played a rousing song, should the team make an exceptional play or score a touchdown.
The best day, at least for the senior class, was Senior Hard Times Day, when the seniors got to wear crazy things to school and require the underclass students to do whatever they were told. A sophomore might have to carry a senior’s books, and a junior shine his shoes. The worst was being a freshman. That year I was ordered to wear my clothing inside out. It was embarrassing, but it was a lot of fun, and no one thought of being mean.
Other events during the week included a pie-eating contest, tricycle races, skits, and pep rallies. The football players donned cheerleader uniforms and entertained the student body with their attempts at doing a cheer or a routine. Having fun was the goal of the entire week.
The night before the big game a large crowd of students gathered at a section of the desert across from the school for the purpose of having a bonfire. Throughout the week kids gathered wood (not always with the owner’s permission) and delivered it to the site of the bonfire. The wood pile grew larger and higher with each day’s additions. With the fire department close by, a torch was lit, and the huge mountain of wood was ignited! The cheering was deafening, the heat it generated was incredible, but the embers eventually turned to an orange glow, and it was time to sing the Alma Mater. EVERYONE sang it. It was like a hymn, and if you didn’t sing, well, you just didn’t have any school spirit.
The best part of Homecoming for me was being in the band. I loved all the extra practice we put in. We worked hard on a special half-time show, and the Pep Band performed at every rally. We got to ride on a flat-bed truck through the town, playing all the fight songs over and over again. Is it any wonder that after 50 years I can still play “Anchors Aweigh” from memory?? (As another nod to our Navy roots, “Anchors Aweigh” was adopted as the fight song.)
Sometime during the week, the kids in the Senior class scaled the hill we called B Mountain, to put a fresh coat of whitewash on the rocks that formed a capital “B”. They also had to update the previous class’s work so that on the evening of the game, when the spotlight was switched on after sunset, the resplendent “B” and our graduation year was highlighted for all to withhold.
On the night of the game the excitement was electric! The band in their uniforms marched to a