Putting aside what the school sees as restrictions based on gender, the University of Wisconsin-Stout's annual homecoming on Saturday will for the first time in nearly 80 years not crown a homecoming king and queen.

Instead, eight to 10 students will be selected Friday in a campus ceremony for the Stout Ambassadors Spirit Award, the school 45 miles east of the Minnesota border announced Friday.

The new program provides an opportunity to recognize more students, said Emily Ascher, UW-Stout's campus activities coordinator.

"All of our students have the capacity to strongly and proudly serve as representatives of campus," Ascher said. "Restricting that role to a gender-specific pair limits opportunities, both for our students and program as a whole."

More than a quarter of Stout's 9,500 students come from Minnesota.

Colleges and high schools around the country have been steadily moving away from gender specificity in homecoming royalty in various ways. At the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the titles of king and queen were dropped last year in favor of "royalty," ending the requirement that the two be of the opposite sex. The University of Minnesota, the state's largest university, selects a king and queen.

The ambassadors' duties will go beyond what's required of homecoming kings and queens, who generally had no duties after homecoming. The ambassadors will represent the student body at homecoming festivities, two alumni events and a campus Career Conference. They also will have a special breakfast as a group with the chancellor during the year.

UW-Stout's first homecoming was 1917. The first homecoming football game was in 1922, and the first homecoming queen was crowned in 1937.

Last year's UW-Stout king and queen were Ian Offerdahl and Emily Bergquist.

Stout's football opponent Saturday for homecoming is UW-La Crosse.