Homecoming: Then and Now

Celebrating 40 years of Helena High Homecoming

Kaylyn Barns, Writer

Prince and Princess: Ethan Walsh and Eva Hicks

    Duke and Duchess: James Fox and Mia Carrell
Lady and Lord: Hazel Bishop and Nicholas Kantorowicz (photo by Aryana Rowe-Holland)
Queen and King: Morin Blaise and Robert Stimpson (photo by Aryana Rowe-Holland)
First Vigilante Queen: Vivian Heiser (Vigilante 1944)
First Queen and King: Kathy Bernhard and Alan Morris
Student Drew Cloud decorating for first homecoming celebration

Vigilante 1950
Vigilante 1950

Homecoming has been a beloved high school tradition for generations in schools across the country. Thursday, September 15th, marked Helena High’s 40th year participating in this cultural tradition.


This year’s royalty includes Hazel Bishop and Nicholas Kantorowicz for Lady and Lord, James Fox and Mia Carrell for Duke and Duchess, Eva Hicks and Ethan Walsh as Princess and Prince, and Robert Stimpson and Morin Blaise for our King and Queen. 


The event holds unique significance for each nominee. “ It kind of gave me a sense of leadership,” says Walsh. “By being nominated by the teachers and voted on by the students, it shows you they look up to you.” To others, such as Blaise, homecoming signifies an encouraging “kickoff” to the next school year.


Generally, homecoming is intended to unify a school, to reinforce the idea that each and every student holds a place within the school. “I think it’s super fun, and a way to get students involved,” says Walsh. 


Several schools claim to have been the originators of homecoming and its customs as we know it today, although the University of Missouri is widely accepted to have come up with the initial idea. In an attempt add whento ignite tension between their rival school, the University of Kansas, the school invited its alumni to “come home” and support their former college during the annual game.


In 1914, the University of Minnesota (UM) hosted the first homecoming dance after winning against its rival, the University of Wisconsin. UM crowned its first homecoming queen in 1932, who was judged by button sales, popularity, beauty, and academic standing. The first homecoming King was crowned in 1951.


 During WWII, the idea lost some popularity but picked up again later with high school students.


Rather than button sales and popularity, HHS teachers strive to seek students who are kind and motivated. HHS teacher Therese Tucker asks, “who’s a really neat person that we want to recognize,” signifying the true basis behind all HHS royalty: authentic accomplishment.


In the eyes of this year’s royalty, nominations are based on a combination of bonds with teachers, academic drive, and being genuinely kind (or simply a “stand up guy”), all of which are evident in the collective 2022 homecoming court.


Helena High has enthroned school royalty for nearly 80 years.


In 1944, the school yearbook, the Vigilante, proposed a competition that became wildly successful. Classes met to nominate a girl for Queen and Crown Princess. Candidates were then to choose both a boy to be her ‘publicity campaigner’, and one to be ‘business manager’. Anyone who purchased a yearbook was eligible to vote.


On the morning of Friday, November 19, 1944, Helena High halls buzzed with excitement as the kids eagerly awaited the results of their first-ever queen.


Students piled into the (now HMS) auditorium as the Vigilante assembly began, sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation. 


The 1944 Vigilante Queen, Vivian Heiser, emerged from the doorway. All eyes fell on her as she “marched down the aisle, arrayed in a beautiful white formal and red train, to the strains of a coronation March being played by the school band” (Vigilante 1944).


During these early days of royalty, many people were involved besides the nominees themselves; the nominated girls were accompanied by their managers, train bearers, crown bearers, and scepter bearers.


The Vigilante Royalty enthusiasm seemed to peak during the 50’s, during which the celebration had its own multiple-page section in the yearbook; however, by the mid 60’s, interest had declined. 


Throughout the years, Vigilante Royalty connoted thrones, ceremonial performances by the school band, assemblies, votes, flower bouquets, sashes, expensive dresses and tuxedos, and “I now crown you’s.”


The year 1982 marked the first year Bengals enjoyed a true ‘homecoming’. The 1982 Vigilante announced the initiation in this way: “A planning committee . . . brought forth the idea of changing Coronation to Homecoming.”


HHS’s first technical “homecoming” royalty, crowned in 1982, were Queen Kathy Bernhard and King Alan Morris.


During the weeklong ceremony, students enjoyed a spirit week, street dance in the tennis court, bonfire, and class competitions. 


Students enjoyed a variety of festivities. The week began with nominations: 4 senior girls and 4 senior boys. A ‘street dance’ was held in the tennis court on Tuesday night. Spirit week consisted of “Grubs”, “50’s,” “Best,” “Punk,” and “School Colors”. The outro began with a football game in which, despite the unfavorable weather, Bengals defeated the Great Falls Bison for the first time in 23 years, with a score 13-9. 


Royalty was announced at the games’ halftime. “At the signal of half-time, four cars, with hazard lights flashing, pulled onto the field carrying the eight candidates. They were then escorted onto the field by their parents, where the big announcement was made” (Vigilante 1982).


On Saturday, a formal dance was held in honor of Bernhard and Morris.


Looking into the future, some students believe we should include more festivities.” 

However, as Walsh pointed out,”not having a dance [and other events] makes it more special”, with the nominations being the main event.


To many people, homecoming is looked back upon in a fond manner, a reminder of their high school days. Favorite school traditions are something that, once we reach adulthood, will forever hold a place in our memories, reminding us of all the good–and bad–times we shared throughout the treacherous journey we call high school. 


“I like the Bengal walk . . . and crosstown game,” says Fox. “[I look forward to] “the freshmen assembly,” says Blaise. She views this tradition as an opportunity for older students to be a part of incoming students’ experiences as they prepare to embark on a new chapter of their lives. Walsh’s favorite tradition is going to the Bengal games, rallying alongside classmates for our team, believing it’s a “great way to be involved and socialize with each other.”


What is your favorite HHS tradition, or favorite celebration from your own high school? (Comment below!)