Shaler homecoming celebration a major event

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

As the leaves change color and high school football games dominate Friday night, those in local school districts turn their attention to homecoming.

The annual fall celebrations, which range from daylong to weeklong events, have grown from the opportunity to welcome alumni back to their alma maters into communitywide celebrations in many districts.

“As much as it's a school district event, it's also a community pride event, as well,” said Mindy Thiel, activities director at Shaler Area.

Shaler Area is known for having one of the largest homecoming celebrations, which features a half-mile parade Saturday, Oct. 13, with more than 50 school, community and alumni groups marching or performing, six fire department trucks and six student-built trailer floats followed by a community picnic and the football game.

“For Shaler, it's really when the community comes out and enjoys the athletic teams and the other organizations,” said Sam Bartsch, Junior Class president.

For decades, residents have lined Mt. Royal Boulevard in Shaler between St. Bonaventure Church and Titan Stadium behind the middle school to watch the parade.

“It's a Shaler tradition (that) I think is really important to keep alive,” Bartsch said. “There are very few communities who all come out for homecoming. It's big.”

Shaler Police Department police Chief Bryan Kelly said he estimates homecoming is the biggest event in the township, “even bigger than the Fourth of July.”

Each local school district approaches homecoming events in a way that represents its community.

Jim Cromie, communication specialist at Keystone Oaks, said while the communities that make up the district do not share a border, homecoming is the time of year when residents of Dormont, Green Tree and Castle Shannon can come together to celebrate a common bond.

In 2005, the district revived the tradition of a homecoming parade that started in the 1920s.

“We always look at the parade as a celebration of our entire community, the KO community,” Cromie said.

“All of our communities are smaller communities in western Pennsylvania, and they're very proud. They all have their own police departments and fire departments, and they're all wonderful little communities.”

The parade route celebrates the district's history by starting at the former site of the Dormont High School, now an elementary school, and winds through the campus and neighborhood to the stadium.

The parade, which took place Oct. 5, featured the mayors and police chiefs of each community, as well as community groups.

Homecoming traditions often are generations-old and can encompass events from the most traditional homecoming football games and dances to bonfires and carnivals.

School districts such as Chartiers Valley, Fox Chapel Area and Seneca Valley, host carnivals with booths and games for the community.

Franklin Regional students, alumni and families look forward to the homecoming bonfire on campus each year.

Fox Chapel Area High School students compete in class performances or skits, and the Seneca Valley School District even caps its evening's homecoming events with a fireworks display.

Linda Andreassi, spokeswoman for Seneca Valley School District, said the carnival is one of the district's longest- running homecoming traditions, which annually attracts residents from the nine municipalities that make up the district.

“We have a really strong support system of graduates, and (homecoming) gives us an opportunity to welcome back to our campus alumni and an opportunity to embrace and demonstrate their school spirit,” Andreassi said.

“It's also for our community to come out and see what we're doing and the wonderful things our students are doing.”

While some school districts host homecoming celebrations that are identical to the events decades past, others embrace changes to include more of the community and celebrate the entire district, not just the student body.

Fox Chapel Area expanded the tradition of crowning a homecoming court to also crown a homecoming prince and princess, prekindergarten students at the Family Literacy Center in Sharpsburg, a resource center run through the district, as well as a senior citizen king and queen from Lighthouse Pointe Village at Chapel Harbor, a retirement community in O'Hara, as a way to include more of the community in homecoming.

“Homecoming — it's a common bond,” said Erin Butkovic, director of student activities and government for the Fox Chapel Area High School.

“Everyone has had a homecoming; it's a shared experience.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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