Texas Tech University

Q&A: Unmasking a Tradition

Glenys Young

October 20, 2022

Crowning of Homecoming King and Queen (2021)

What really goes on behind the scenes of homecoming? We’ll show you.

It's homecoming week at Texas Tech University.

The Broadway entrance to campus has been transformed with spirit boards. You'll see special events in and around the Student Union Building all week, not to mention annual highlights like the Student Organization (S.O.) Sing, the parade and the crowning of the king and queen on Saturday. 

But what really goes on behind the scenes of homecoming week? How are the king and queen chosen, and why does a tradition like homecoming even matter in 2022? 

For those not involved, it can look like a very exclusive club that only certain people are able to participate in, one that isn't even relevant anymore. 

That's not so, according to the people responsible for organizing the entire event. 

We sat down with Kristin Miller, associate director for Student Activities Marketing & Media, and Jon Mark Bernal, senior associate managing director for Student Union & Activities, to get the full behind-the-scenes look.

What is the biggest misconception you hear from the campus community about homecoming?

Bernal: I've done this for a really long time, and I think the misconception may be that it's just for alumni or that it's only about Friday night, in terms of the bonfire and pep rally. We have a whole slew of students who put a lot of time and effort into hosting a ton of events throughout the week, and it does involve more than just alumni; it involves our whole student body, it involves our campus community and our Lubbock community as well.

Miller: It's kind of the same on the student side, as well. A lot of the smaller student organizations don't necessarily think they can participate, which is incorrect; they're able to as well.

The selection of the homecoming king and queen can seem like a popularity contest. What actually goes into the process of picking who those candidates are and then narrowing it down to the winners?

Miller: Anybody who's involved in a student organization can be a royalty candidate. Each organization can sponsor one male candidate and one female candidate, and then we have everybody turn in their résumés. 

Donovan Satchell of Wylie and Channing Wicks of Lubbock
Donovan Satchell of Wylie and Channing Wicks of Lubbock were crowned Texas Tech University's homecoming king and queen in 2021.

Our first step is a résumé screening. We redact all information that would give away who they are in case they know someone on the judging panel. There are different people who sit on that panel: a member of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, a member of our Staff Senate, a member of the Alumni Association and four students – one from the Student Government Association (SGA), one from the Honors College, one from ROTC and one from the Residence Halls Association. We give those seven judges the stack of résumés and they rank them. The top 10 candidates move on. 

Those top 10 candidates each have an interview the week of Homecoming. Different judges from those seven areas judge the interviews, and that's how we pick the top five candidates. We give that list to SGA, and that is when the voting begins.

Bernal: The only thing I would add to that is the scoring. There is an election commission that's handled through the SGA and they have agreed on the whole scoring process. There is a formula we use – kind of like a rubric, if you will – of how we tabulate all the scores from both the resume and interview so we can come up with the most fair and accurate scoring. 

It goes into how they do in academics, are they involved, those sorts of things. In the interview, they ask a lot of things like, “What do you know about Texas Tech? What do you know about our community?” They're not just softball questions.

So, the idea is that a more well-rounded student would do better in that process, right?

Miller: People do think it's a popularity contest, but we have a really good process to make sure everybody has a shot. 

Bernal: A lot of folks think it's just Greeks that do homecoming, and that's it. But one thing we've strived for over the last several years is the involvement of other student organizations. We work with Campus Life to get the word out to all student organizations, and we see the breadth of applicants in the top 10 in men and women. They come from student organizations, academic organizations, service organizations – many years ago, the feral cat organization put up a candidate. A number of groups are represented, which we feel means we're going in a positive direction. It is not just, “If you don't have Greek letters, you're not getting in.”

From the end of the king and queen voting until the moment when it's announced, what is your anxiety level? 

Bernal: Once I get the results from SGA, we send it over to the Office of Communications & Marketing and to Athletics to fit into the script. And I will be honest, I'm always like, “Please, Lord, let me make sure I put the right name!” And then when they say it over the loudspeaker, I'm like, “Please say the right name!” So it's that anxiety of, “Did I give the right information?” 

Miller: Agreed. Like Jon Mark said, we want to say the right name, and we put the phonetic pronunciation next to it, too. For instance, if someone was saying “Christine” instead of “Kristin” for me, I'd be a little disappointed, like, “Oh, they didn't get my name right.” 

That's a great point. Can you tell me a little bit more about the logistics of everything in the stadium? How do you get the name to the speaker, make sure the cameras are in the right place at the right time and have everything on hand?  

Bernal: We send a preliminary script over to Athletics, and we basically send over all the top five men and women ahead of time, so they have that. And then we just sort of leave a blank for the winners. The voting goes from noon to midnight on Friday, and we do not get the results until early Saturday. The time just varies, depending on when they get them to us. So as soon as we get it, then I'll coordinate with whoever is the point person that year for Athletics, and they fit it into the schedule. And then they confirm with me, “OK, it's in here; we're good to go on our end.” 

Each candidate can bring an escort with them, whoever they want to escort them on the field, and we meet down there about five minutes before the end of the second quarter. We'll line everybody up and then we walk down there; it's just a lot of waiting, right, and they're sort of anxious, so we try to get them to take a lot of pictures and get their mind off it. And we always do a thank you to them and their families for the amount of time they spend, because these students give up a lot of their week – we hope they're still taking care of academics, but you know, they do give up a lot of their week. 

And then we take them to the endzone. We used to do it in the middle of the field, but the end zone gives us a much better view of all the candidates, so we do it there. We line them all up. I will tell you, we line them up alphabetically by their organizations – there's no rhyme or reason other than that. People always think we put the winner in the middle or whatever, and we don't; we just line them up and then we wait until they announce the winners. 

We have the previous king and queen there if they're available, and they help pass out the sashes and the crowns, and President and Mrs. Schovanec are there, too, to help. And then the winners are announced. After that, they do a lot of pictures and interviews and then we escort everyone out prior to the team coming back on the field.

President Schovanec and I talk every year about the whole process. On Saturday, he always comes down and he's like, “OK, Jon Mark, who is it?” and I tell him, but I always make him face away from the students, because they're always watching to see if he'll look for the winner. I'm like, “Please look at me, and I'll let you know who it is and what they're wearing.” And I always bring him a picture of the person so he can see and then I'm like, “OK, sir, when you turn around, then you can look when they're out on the field,” because we don't want to give it away.

For each of you, what is the one tradition that, without it, homecoming wouldn't be what it is?

Miller: My favorite one is S.O. Sing. A lot of people don't know what that is, but I feel like it's one of the most fun events.  

Bernal: I really enjoy the bonfire. When we talk to a lot of folks elsewhere, they say the bonfire is so archaic; a lot of schools used to have bonfires and don't anymore, so I feel like that's something that's still a great tradition for us. Because, yes, there have been tragedies that have put some schools in the spotlight, unfortunately for a negative thing, but we've worked to maintain the bonfire as part of our overall tradition. Our Saddle Tramps love it, our community loves it, and I think it's an awesome opportunity for our whole Lubbock community. It's the culmination of the week, aside from the crowning on the field. You know, there are parades all over for different stuff, but a bonfire is pretty special. 

On the flip side of that question, what is the worst part of homecoming for you?

Miller: I don't dislike any part of it. It is really stressful trying to plan everything – I mean, I guess that would be my answer if I had to say something – but it's worth it. There are a lot of moving parts. With the parade, for example, we have to reach out to so many people because a lot of the community helps. We've got to get our permit and that has to be done in a very specific amount of time. We have to have our shirts. It's just a lot of moving parts. Like I said, every event is worth it; it's just stressful to try to keep track of everything you have to do, make sure we're following the rules and that everybody involved is feeling appreciated.

Bernal: I would say the worst part for me is an uncontrollable, and that is the weather. And that's because all week long, all we're doing is following it and saying, “OK, what does today look like? What does tomorrow look like?” And then from an emergency management standpoint, we have so much built into Friday. If it's raining, we can still do the parade, but if there's lightning within a certain distance, we cannot. And if it stops in time, “Can we still do the pep rally?” Not if the field's wet. So, it's just battling that element that you really don't know what you're going to get and you cannot control it. 

It's heartbreaking because Saddle Tramps are getting ready for the bonfire and then, if you have to cancel it, they are just torn apart because they so look forward to it. And the students put so much time into their parade floats, and then, if we can't have the parade, then in their minds, it's all for nothing.

Looking back on past years you've been involved in the process, what are some of the moments that have really stuck with you?

Bernal: I don't know that it's one particular moment, but in the spring, we take each king and queen and they help us at mini pep rallies we do at elementary schools. And to me, that is where we really see them shine. They go visit with kids and take pictures and stuff like that, and to me, that is important because we show them the value of being part of our community. It's always interesting, because I feel like most of the women who win are usually awesome in these situations. The guys are sometimes very timid. But once they get through their first school, they're usually much better and they really get into it. 

To me, I love that our staff and our students set these events up with elementary schools. We try to work with all the schools and go to some that maybe don't get as many visitors, because it's important for us to hit all demographics in Lubbock. Those stories are important, because it matters to those kids, and they realize that, “Hey, that could be me.” 

I'll be really upfront with you. Our king this past year was Donovan Satchell, Texas Tech's first Black homecoming king. Every year, we have a new king, and this year we had a special opportunity for kids to see new representation wearing the crown and sash. Kids see a college student who looks like them and think, “Oh my gosh, that's amazing!” And so, to me, I am always very proud of our student body for voting for high achieving and involved students like Channing and Donovan to represent the student body. 

Miller: I haven't done this as many years as Jon Mark has, but something I find cool is just getting to know the students. I say specifically royalty, because that's who we spend the most time with. We require them to do philanthropy. It's not that they're not well rounded already, but just to make sure there's that aspect of helping the community. 

Generally, the students who win we know a little bit about because we've been with them for a month. So when you know them, you have more of a stake in it. You're really happy for whoever wins because they're all really nice, they're all great students.

I didn't realize the job doesn't end when you're crowned. Tell me about the rest of that process after someone is named homecoming king or queen. How long does that last, how involved is it and what all are they doing?

Miller: It's until the next queen or king is crowned. We require of candidates that they aren't graduating this December; we require that they graduate next May, because we do have a few extra things we want them to fulfill and different events and stuff like that if they're available – we don't make them do it, but we want them to be available to attend. 

We have the Student Union Building-wide event every October called Tech-or-Treat. That's a community event where different organizations sign up to do a fall carnival, and kids from the community come in, so we ask for the king and queen to attend. They also attend Arbor Day in the spring. We also have the pep rallies Jon Mark mentioned, as well, but we ask that they attend other events as needed. If it doesn't work out with their schedule, that's fine. But, as I mentioned before, all of them are already great, well-rounded students who are involved in the community, so everybody's always eager to do it. And I feel like they like that aspect of it, too, because it helps them to continue to give back to Texas Tech and the community.

Bernal: Sometimes we randomly get requests from folks because they know they go to schools, and they will say, “Hey, could we have them help emcee this event?” or “Could we have them come be in this parade?” or whatever it may be. So, we always let them know there could be other duties as assigned, just based on what's going on. This year being the centennial, there could be other events that come up. 

To each of you, what does it mean for that individual to be crowned king or queen? What does that say about them and their connection to Texas Tech?

Miller: I keep using the word well-rounded, but that's kind of what it's like. They should be known around campus, right? If they get into that top five and are voted on, obviously, they're a known person on campus or people wouldn't vote for them. So, I just think it means they're well-rounded. It's not necessarily that they are involved in a million groups, but it means they're good leaders and they've achieved greatness in whatever they're involved in, whether it be one group or five. I think it means they are good individuals who care about the community, care about Texas Tech and want to achieve.

Bernal: For me, it's about the overall process. We see a lot of these students who may be voluntold that they're going to be the organization's representative, especially the men, more so, and they think, “Oh, I don't want to do this.” But watching them change from day one, which is Monday, all the way through Saturday – which is really less than a week turnaround – it's really interesting to watch that mentality change into, “Hey, I could really represent my school.” 

Obviously, we work in higher education. I think back to all the things I was involved in when I was in school and think, “Man, that really kind of shaped my future and what I did.” And I do believe every single opportunity you have will shape the next part of whatever is meant to be. And for these kids, they don't know that yet. I think some of them just take it for granted and think, “OK, I just have to check the next thing off and go do it.” But really, I think they don't even know the value of this week. So, for me, I can't wait to see them a week from now, two weeks from now – and then you really do see them all over campus afterward. You've made this totally different connection with a student, a really personal connection, and for me, that is really special. 

Sometimes we go so fast in our jobs, we think all we're doing is making maybe a surface-level connection with students, because we think that's all we have time for. But in a process like this, it's much more meaningful. Down the line, we've had kids come back and say, “Hey, are you hiring? Can I come work for you?” or, “Hey, I'm doing this. Do you know anybody that has this company?” It's a longer, meaningful relationship with students, and I think that's pretty unique.