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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Sep. 22, 2021 2 months ago

Homecoming traditions step outside the norm

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After Orange County Public Schools decided that all homecomings would take place outside, West Orange-area schools got creative.
by: Jim Carchidi Associate Editor

After a year of virtual socializing, Orange County Public Schools high school students are easing back to normalcy with a new take on a beloved tradition.

All 2021 homecoming plans will take place outdoors, as mandated by Orange County Public Schools. But decisions on event locations and theming remain in the hands of each school. The decision is generally guided by schools’ respective Student Government Associations. Each student body votes to narrow down ideas for the theming and venue, with the final vote conducted among SGA leadership.

Both West Orange and Windermere high schools will be hosting theirs at SeaWorld Orlando. West Orange’s “HOCO Under the Stars” will take place Oct. 2, while Windermere’s “A Night Under the Sea” will be one week later on Oct. 9.

“SeaWorld had the best price point option, as well as availability,” West Orange High School SGA sponsor Alicia Light said. “A lot of the other theme parks have their own events going on right now, and also price points were quite a bit higher.”

The outdoor requirement did present a challenge to typical homecoming plans. And although creating immersive theming and optimal sound design for an outdoor event may seem difficult, it’s a hallmark of Central Florida’s tourism industry.

“Where else but in Orlando can your homecoming dance be at one of the most famous theme parks in the world?” said Windermere High SGA adviser Evan Brengel said.

According to Brengel, SeaWorld is allocating the outdoor portions of the Antarctica environment for the dances and providing nearly everything, including a deejay, photographer, food and drink. The nearby Kraken coaster also will be operating. 

“And, depending on how they’re feeling that day, live animals may be integrated into the event with their handlers,” he said. “We are allowed to bring in our own decorations if desired, but the atmosphere created within the Antarctica section is decor in itself.” 

Some schools are planning on-campus events with custom decorations taking center stage. The Horizon High School SGA is even planning its Oct. 30 dance in secret, with a big reveal of the theme scheduled for the student body Sept. 24.

“Students have been working since beginning of the year,” said Wendy Cartwright, one of the deans and the activities director at Horizon High. “Themes were proposed and voted on within the SGA, because they wanted it to be a big surprise.”

Ocoee High themed its 2019 homecoming after the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” This year’s dance will be based on a popular film that fits the fall season.

“We’re doing ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and spelling Nightmare with a “K,” so it’s a play on words,” said SGA adviser Garett Kelly of the reference to the Ocoee Knight mascot.

Construction on the props and decorations for the heavily themed event began Sept. 17 and will continue right up to the morning of the Oct. 16 dance.

“It’s just going to build up in my room, and we’ll move it all out on the 16th in the morning, get everything set up and come back out on the morning of the 17th and take it all down,”Kelly said. 

Students and their communities are looking forward to the returning school tradition. The volunteer contributions and support will resonate even after the music stops.

“I’m really glad to see that people are willing to give back and help at our homecoming,” Kelly said. “Because these kids have lost a lot of their high school experience, and this year, they finally get to let loose a little bit.”

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Jim Carchidi is an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. He has more than two decades of journalism experience in Central Florida, including positions at the Orlando Sentinel and the Orlando Business Journal. He holds a...

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