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Fireworks, friendship and a football thriller as Elon welcomes alumni back for Homecoming 2017

More than 2,000 alumni joined Elon students, faculty and staff for a Homecoming celebration focused on reconnecting and celebrating. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Homecoming 2017

The music from the speakers and the sounds of Elon's Fire of the Carolinas marching band were punctuated Saturday afternoon by ecstatic greetings, laughter and conversation as a record-breaking 2,700 Elon alumni returned to campus to celebrate Homecoming 2017. 

Clear skies and warm weather for Friday night's Rock the Block community party gave way to overcast weather and cooler temperatures on Saturday, but that didn't deter the Elon faithful from turning out in droves. Classes and affinity groups celebrating reunions crowded under tents to share food and stories, with crowds clad in maroon and gold making their way to Rhodes Stadium to see the Phoenix take on the Towson Tigers and build upon their winning season. 

"It's always so great to return to campus to see what's changed, and catch up with so many great friends," said Amy Barcliff '02, now living in Annapolis Maryland. "Seeing such great people is always a draw for Homecoming."

Reunion events throughout the weekend and tailgating before Saturday's football game against Towson University were just a few of the ways alumni, faculty, staff and current students were able to celebrate the university that binds them together. 

For 13 former Elon football players who played under late Coach Harry E. "Sid" Varney between 1953 and 1959, Homecoming marks what's become an annual event to gather and build upon the bond created on the football field more than six decades ago. Bob Kopko '58, a leading force in bringing these former Elon players and their families back together each year, said he had never heard of Elon before being visited by Varney. 

Coach Curt Cignetti congratulates Phoenix quarterback Davis Cheek following the win over Towson.

A coach who challenged his players and worked them hard, Varney was a key reason that Kopko says he has such a strong connection to the men who gather each year — a group commonly referred to as the "Varney Boys." Extra running following grueling practices made the players realize they needed to rely on each other. "That was when we became a team," Kopko said of his former coach, who led Elon to an undefeated record for the 1957 season. "We sure hated him at first, but now we love him. And this group of men — we have a bond you wouldn't believe."

Elon's success on the football field so far this season created an extra draw, with Kopko saying he likes what he sees in this year's squad and first-year Coach Curt Cignetti, who spoke to the Varney Boys Friday night. "We're so proud of them," Kopko said. "We're excited about the team and about the coach — he reminds us a little bit of Coach Varney."

Cignetti and the Phoenix didn't disappoint with a thrilling 33-30 overtime win over Towson at a drizzly Rhodes Stadium.

Homecoming got underway on Friday as alumni began arriving on campus, drawn by offerings such as Class Without a Quiz, a session focused on design thinking and innovation lead by Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and Dawan Stanford, director of design thinking for Elon. 

Friday also offered the opportunity for Elon to honor another cohort of distinguished graduates, with five alumni recognized for their professional acumen, their service to the community and their dedication to their alma mater.

Receiving alumni awards this year were Susan L. Yow ’76, W. Cecil Worsley III ’86 P’14, Ashleigh J. Palmer Weathers ’08, Brandon S. Shore ’08 and Garrett A. McKnight ’94. 

East Haggard Avenue and Young Commons were filled with alumni, students, faculty and staff for Friday night's Rock the Block community party as they enjoyed the sounds of The Band Punch, had their pictures drawn by caricature artists and enjoyed culinary treats from a variety of food trucks.

The evening's highlight was a tribute to President Leo M. Lambert and Laurie Lambert, who were joined on stage by the family to help kick off a fireworks display over Moseley Center. 

The Lambert family was back in the spotlight Saturday afternoon with a special halftime tribute.

Runners and walkers turned out early Saturday to participate in the Homecoming 5K Brick Run/Walk. Dozens of participants wound their way through Elon's scenic campus on its brick walkways in the annual event organized by the Office of Alumni Engagement and Elon Campus Recreation.

President Leo M. Lambert, his wife Laurie and their family was celebrated during halftime of the Phoenix football game.

Many more made their way around campus throughout the day on Saturday to see what has changed, and what has stayed the same. They caught up on the progress on a variety of construction projects now underway around campus, including Schar Center, Sankey Hall and a new residential neighborhood now under construction on the eastern end of campus.  

Saturday morning saw the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Susan Scholarships, which have helped more than 40 women pursue and obtain an Elon education since being founded by Furman Moseley '56 in honor of his wife, Susan. 

Furman Moseley speaks at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Susan Scholars.

By midday, crowds had begun to gather by Lake Mary Nell and the tents lining Bank of America Drive leading to the entrance of Rhodes Stadium as they prepared to watch the Phoenix take the field. Smells from grills cooking dozens of hotdogs or smokers boasting roasted pork filled the cool air, as friends competed in cornhole, scanned the crowd for classmates or danced to music echoing off the surrounding buildings. 

Barcliff said this Homecoming marks a special milestone for her Alpha Omicron Pi chapter, which along with fellow sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha is celebrating its 30th year. Barcliff had reconnected with her Alpha Omicron Pi sisters during a brunch earlier in the day and was looking forward to continuing the celebration throughout the weekend. 

"Homecoming at Elon is such a special time," she said. 

Owen Covington,
11/4/2017 1:55 PM