ST. CLOUD - St. Cloud State University students want their homecoming back.
Three-quarters of students who voted in a referendum this week urged the university to reinstate a homecoming weekend. The vote is nonbinding, but student leaders said it could prompt a discussion with university officials, who nixed the annual tradition in 2011.
"It deserves honest conversation, and students want to be part of it," said Jarrod Wiggins, president of the St. Cloud State University Student Association. "They're the same students who are, in four or five years, going to be the alumni you want to be coming back for the weekend."
University spokesman Adam Hammer said "it's premature to make any conclusions" about the vote or what might follow it. "Those conversations haven't been had, yet," he said Thursday night after the results were announced.
Homecoming rowdiness was a problem for St. Cloud State in years past, but university officials say other reasons were behind the move to drop the homecoming label in favor of four seasonal events.
At the time, Wanda Overland, vice president for student life and development, said scheduling homecoming had grown difficult with so few home football games and competition from other events, such as deer hunting. Instead of just coming back for homecoming, the message to alumni is "come back any time," she said then.
So the school started four Celebrate! St. Cloud State weekends, spread throughout the year.
Attendance has been growing, Hammer said, and the crowd at the football game held during this fall's event was near capacity.
But when's homecoming?
Several students said Thursday that the collection of events held in homecoming's place was confusing.
"A lot of people were wondering this year, 'When's homecoming?'" said Oliver Tempel, a junior studying business economics.
Students didn't vote to get rid of the Celebrate! events. Instead, the question asked whether to "reinstate Homecoming into a Celebrate! SCSU weekend, thus titling the weekend 'Celebrate! SCSU: Homecoming.'"
About 76 percent of the nearly 700 students who voted said yes. The university's total head count is close to 16,500.
It's "not unusual" for the student body to take such votes, Hammer said. "It's one of the many ways they express their opinions."
The word "homecoming" matters, especially to alumni, said Taylor Block, a sophomore studying rhetorical English. Students who participate in Greek life "are looking for reasons to come back," said Block, a member of the Acacia Fraternity. "I don't think something called Celebrate St. Cloud would make me want to come back as much as, say, homecoming."
The student vote purposely leaves open which of the four Celebrate! events might be labeled homecoming, Wiggins said. He likes the idea of pairing the event with hockey, which is Division I, rather than football, played at the Division II level.
"Maybe this is the 21st century definition of homecoming," Wiggins said. "We are in Minnesota, the state of hockey."
Businesses want it back
If St. Cloud bars and restaurants could have voted in this week's referendum, they would have said yes, too.
For the past two years, they've organized unofficial homecomings, using the word liberally in signs advertising 8 a.m. omelet bars and $3 bloodys. But these quasi-homecomings have drawn fewer people, said Stephen Kremer, president of the St. Cloud Hospitality Association and longtime manager of Howie's Sports Bar.
"I've been on this corner for 26 years," Kremer said. "It was fun to see the alumni, the workers come back. Plus, there's the income. It just hasn't been the same."
Businesses would probably prefer an October homecoming tied to a football game, he said, but if the university wants to hold it in January, paired with a hockey tournament, they'd love to work with school officials.
Any homecoming is better than no homecoming, Kremer said.
"What college doesn't have homecoming?" he said. "It's just kind of weird."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna