>WILLIAMSVILLE NORTH: FIREWORKS AND BURNING BOATS
By JULIA BURKINBINE AND COLIN KNOER
Bonfires, dances and football games are all part of the homecoming traditions at local high schools. Here, some NeXt correspondents report on the highlights.
For 40 years, homecoming at Williamsville North has been an epic event, thanks to the work of Michael Skinner and his student council. "Skins," as he is called, has been in charge of homecoming for 35 years, this year being his last. Under him, North's homecoming has become arguably the best in the area, if not the country. Skinner has gotten calls from across the nation, from schools looking for ways to make their homecomings better.
In 1975, North's newly formed student council, with new adviser Skinner, assisted by former principal Sam Gang, began transforming Homecoming which then was limited to a Friday night football game and a semiformal dance. "It bothered me that there was a lack of school spirit at North," Skinner said. With that in mind, he started a homecoming pep rally and school dress-up day traditions.
In 1983, an outdoor dance was added, ending with a fireworks display. It's now "the largest high-school fireworks display on the Eastern seaboard," Skinner proudly told the school.
The Thursday night dance also includes a huge bonfire. A massive boat is dragged into the field by the school, and the seniors spray-paint it before the fire department sets it ablaze.
"We used to have hall decorating and a parade of floats," said Skinner. Now, each class decorates their respective cafeterias. The 2008 themes were the disco inspired "Funky Freshman," Mexican "Spicy Sophomores," Star Wars "Jedi Juniors" and "Survivor Seniors," based on the TV show.
The Student Council decides each year on Homecoming dress-up days. The first day is always "Senior Dress-Up, Under-classmen Grub Day." It's not unusual to see seniors in prom dresses and tuxes. During this year's shortened four-day week, Wednesday was "Tacky Tourist Day." Students wore Hawaiian shirts, visors, and fanny-packs. Thursday was "Fabulous Fifties Day." Students wore poodle skirts, leather jackets and slicked-back hair. On Friday's "Green and Gold Day," students showcased their school colors with crazy outfits, painted hair and faces. Powderpuff football games are held after school. In an upset, the sophomore girls prevailed over the seniors to become powderpuff champions.
On Friday, North's gym filled with hundreds of students for the pep rally, which included a parade of sports teams and performances by the cheerleading squads, Step, Dance, and Gymnastics teams and announcement of Homecoming king and queen. This year's was also a farewell to Skinner, who is retiring. Student Council officers presented him with a plaque, the principal crowned him the honorary king, and a group of guys sang "Wonderwall" by Oasis, a song which Skinner made his anthem for his last year. Homecoming week ended with 1,100 students attending the Saturday night semi-formal dance held in the elaborately decorated gym.
"I never knew thirty-five years later Homecoming would be what it's become," said Skinner. "This is something that makes us different from other schools. Hopefully I've left something behind that's been a gift to North students."
>HAMBURG: THE SUPERHERO FLOAT
Homecoming at Hamburg High School is driven by some good-old class competition. Senior Julie Bender said her favorite part about homecoming is Spirit Week. "The week before the dance, we get to dress in crazy clothes at school. My favorite themed day this year was Pajama Day." Points are given to each student who dresses up and at the end of the week, the points are tallied. The winning class gets a cash prize. The homecoming bonfire gets the students fired up for the weekend's festivities. Hamburg senior Ryan Ferris says this year was one of the best bonfires he has seen, "We had a car smash this year, and everybody seemed to love it. We painted the car in the opposing team's [Amherst] colors. It got a lot of people pumped up for the football game." The football team captains were the first to get their hands on the car, which they left in pieces. What was the highlight of the bonfire? Most would say that it was seeing their student government president -- Ferris -- Irish-dancing on the hood of the car.
Hamburg seniors cleaned up in the traditional float competition. The homecoming theme was Superheroes. The freshman float was Iron Man, sophomores' was SpiderMan, the juniors' was the Hulk, but the seniors won with Batman.
Hamburg decided to make the homecoming football game one that the whole community could enjoy. There were bounce houses and dunk tanks at the field. A popular activity for the students was the opportunity to soak teacher Derek Hill in the dunk tank. Senior Tess Bierl, a cheerleader, said she enjoyed the football game the most. "We had a big crowd this year. It was bigger than ever." The football team ended up losing to Amherst, 27-8.
Hamburg set a record this year for the most tickets -- 900 -- sold to a homecoming dance. While most kids wore formal attire, the seniors' preparation was somewhat different. As tradition goes, seniors at Hamburg can dress in retro attire for homecoming. This makes for some interesting outfits. Whether you were wearing a pretty dress or a '70s vest, everyone seemed to be having a great night.
The junior and senior girls played their powderpuff football game to wrap up homecoming weekend. (Girls play, boys coach.) The junior girls scored the winning touchdown in the last seconds of the game, leaving the senior girls devastated with a score of 5-4.
-- Sarah Attridge
>WEST SENECA EAST: FLAG FOOTBALL IN THE RAIN
The stands at West Seneca East Senior High School were crammed with fans as the varsity football team took on Lake Shore under the lights for the homecoming game. East beat Lake Shore, 28-7.
On Monday of homecoming week, after school, students lined the front of the building with chalk in hand to decorate the sidewalk based on the colors of their class. (Freshman being green, sophomores having blue, juniors, yellow, and seniors, red.)
Next, junior and senior girls faced off in a game of flag football while the boys performed a half-time show as cheerleaders. "It's going to be tough," junior Kayla Leroy said, "We're the major underdogs this year." With rain pouring down, the girls still gave it their all and the juniors pulled off a win with the final score of 39-35.
Thursday and Friday pep rallies got crowds screaming and looking forward to the weekend ahead. Sophomore Julia Suriani said: "The freshmen just couldn't keep up." Freshmen and sophomores battled while juniors and seniors went against each other in competitions like an over-the-head ball pass and a dizzy-bat race. Sophomores defeated the freshmen and seniors beat the juniors. The homecoming dances Friday and Saturday in the school gym were a major success. "I'll definitely be icing my feet tomorrow," said junior Kasey Grys as she left the dance carrying her three-inch heels. "I loved when the balloons fell all over us," Lindsay Lennertz, a junior, said about the black and silver balloons that poured from the ceiling at the end of the dance. Students were left pleased with homecoming week. Freshman Jessica Dolac said: "I can only hope it'll be half as good next year."
-- Candace Calkins, West Seneca East
>LANCASTER: TACKLING THE CATS
Homecoming week for the Lancaster Redskins started off with a bang last Monday when the teachers dusted off their old cleats and took the field for a game of touch football. A large crowd enjoyed back and forth action, ending with the high school faculty defeating teachers from the K-6 squad. "It is important for as many faculty members to participate as possible," said Kristl Quirante, a biology teacher at Lancaster High. "It is great when students see teachers have fun and participating." The massive bonfire was held Tuesday night and lit by Lancaster graduate Peter Strickland, who has lit the bonfire for about the past 10 years. "We had over 3,500 wood pallets burning that night," said Strickland.
Talk about tradition. The week continued at Lancaster with dress-up days and signs and large banners hung throughout the cafeteria. A foreign language banner read, "Cocina los gatos, Cuisinez les chats, and Koch die Katzen" -- literally meaning "Cook the cats" referring to historic rivals, the Depew Wildcats.
"Lancaster school spirit is unparalleled in Western New York," said Spanish teacher Caroline Aungst. "Everyone takes pride in our school including administrators, teachers, and staff." The climax of the week was the football game at Foyle-King Field Friday night when the red and black of the Redskins faced off against the blue and white of the Wildcats. Depew had won the previous two meetings but the Skins stormed out of the gates with five touchdowns in the first half. A few thousand Lancaster fans lost their voices cheering them on to a 35-0 victory.
-- Shea Raff
>TONAWANDA: EXPLOSIVE TNT RIVALRY
Ninety-nine years have passed since the first annual "TNT" game between the Tonawanda Warriors and the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks. With nearly a century of tradition, it is one of the area's legendary rivalries.
In Tonawanda, students gear up for the big game with a weeklong extravaganza of various "days" that let students dress in various comical or theme-oriented ways. This year's themes were "Decade Day" (students dressed up in the style of their favorite period in history), "Jungle Fever" (clothes that have jungle or animal print patterns), "Mismatch Day" (strange color combinations, and "Spirit Day" (in which the kids wear the school colors, maroon and white).
On the eve of the big game, girls played Powderpuff football, followed immediately by the burning of the NT dummy. The game was very intense on Friday, as the Tonawanda warriors prepared to face their greatest foes. The mood at Tonawanda was very optimistic, as linebacker Alex Pickel said: "We're gonna put up a good fight. We're gonna do our best." Tonawanda lost the game to NT in a blowout, 61 to 0.
-- Colin Reboy
>CLARENCE: TRADITION OVER
A new policy was instituted this year at Clarence High School that banned all boys from cheerleading at the powderpuff football game (which the senior girls won, 12-8) and at the pep assembly. This policy was introduced because of problems in the previous year's cheerleading routines. Many boys felt that this was unfair, especially the senior boys because this was their last year of high school. "Boys' cheerleading should have been allowed with restrictions. It should not have been a one-strike, you're-out situation. Punishment for past crimes should not be doled out on those who don't deserve it," said senior Christopher Gaskill. Junior Joseph Tocha said, "The lack of boys cheerleading during powderpuff this year has been unfair to all of the junior and senior boys."
The varsity football team lost, 35-32 to Jamestown. The weekend culminated with the homecoming dance held on a Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight in the school gym.
-- Alyssa Frey