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Homecoming court is reinstated for Brainerd students: Ambassadors to be crowned, merit awards to be presented

Ten seniors will be voted to the homecoming court, while two students from each class are recognized with Above and Beyond Warrior awards.

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Students in the bleachers of the Brainerd Warriors volleyball game dress in royal outfits, including crowns and tiaras, as part of their cheer-section attire Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, at Brainerd High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

After disagreement, discussion and a last-minute compromise, Brainerd High School’s 2021 homecoming will look much the same as last year, and student council leaders finally feel like their voices were heard.

There won’t be a king and queen crowned, but there will be a homecoming court. Seniors will vote for 10 classmates to be on the court, with three of them ultimately being crowned as ambassadors. The traditional homecoming court was made up of five senior girls and five senior boys, with the school then voting on the top two they would like to see as king and queen. But a couple years ago, conversations began about how to have a more inclusive celebration for seniors without anyone feeling excluded.

With that mindset in place, the initial plan for this year after the student council did not come to a unanimous decision was to do away with homecoming court altogether and instead present students with Above and Beyond Warrior awards to recognize them for their contributions to the school and community.

The majority of student council leaders, however, were not on board with that decision, which the students said came primarily from administrators.

BHS Principal Andrea Rusk told school board members during their meeting Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29, the student leaders could not come to a consensus on what they wanted to do, which prompted the implementation of the Above and Beyond Awards.

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“I think, given that we’ve had a very difficult year for many reasons and across many different student groups, we really felt committed to having something that would recognize the students for maybe what they’ve done or who they are as a person,” Rusk said.

No king and queen were crowned last year either, with ambassadors being voted on and recognized during a virtual celebration while students were distance learning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority of this year’s senior student council leaders, however, wanted to bring back the king and queen, along with a sense of normalcy for their senior year.

Senior student council members Avery Mulholland and Chase Larson, along with junior Teagan Kronbeck, a member of the homecoming planning committee, spoke with the Dispatch Wednesday morning, Sept. 29, before the decision to reinstate homecoming court this year was made.

The students’ proposal added in more gender inclusivity, with four girls, four boys and two gender neutral options on the ballot for court. The students said they felt like administrators did not want the homecoming king and queen to simply be a popularity contest, but students feel differently.

“Every year for the past couple years they have been just outstanding people,” Larson said. “They’re not necessarily just popular people. People from the theater community have gotten it. People who were athletes have gotten it. It just has to do with how they are as a person, and that’s something that’s kind of being overlooked.”

Mulholland added the students who are voted in are often sociable and recognized for how nice they are to other students.

While the trio said they liked the idea of Above and Beyond awards for students, using them to replace homecoming court did not feel like the right move. Mulholland, Larson and Kronbeck said Wednesday morning they would work with whichever plan they were given and make the best of the situation but did not feel like their voices were being heard.

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Brainerd High School students Teagan Kronbeck, left, Avery Mulholland and Chase Larson talk about 2021 homecoming plans Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Board and community input

On Tuesday, a change.org petition was created to reinstate homecoming court and the king and queen. As of late Friday afternoon, the petition had just under 2,200 signatures.

School board members and administrators received many comments from community members on the issue, prompting Rusk to give an update at Wednesday’s board meeting.

She began by stressing how respectful and mature the student council leaders had been, even amid disagreement.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say how remarkable they are,” Rusk said. “... I think we could take a lesson from them — when you have change or disagreement, how you treat each other.”

Board member Tom Haglin said he liked the idea of Above and Beyond Awards — which usually recognize staff members — going to students, but was still disappointed at the leaving behind the tradition of king and queen. Board member Bob Nystrom agreed he hated to see tradition go but opined that it does usually seem like a popularity contest, going to the best-looking or most athletic students.

With seniors already having to deal with so many hiccups during their last couple years of high school, board member Kevin Boyles said now does not seem like the right time to be changing things up again. Seniors came in wanting a normal year, he said, but now are having a rug pulled out from under them, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to everyone. He liked the idea of more inclusivity, though, saying this is just an issue of right place, wrong time.

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While homecoming is first and foremost for the students, board member Jana Shogren said the community’s input should also be taken into account, as homecoming is ultimately for the whole community.

Board member Charles Black Lance said he loves tradition, but school leaders need to make sure all students feel included.

“With anything we do with the school district, when it relates to our students, it is my hope that everything we do screams to all students that you matter, that you make a difference,” Black Lance said. “In the end, I hope that all students feel that they belong. And if what we’re choosing to do at this step is doing that and is moving us forward in that regard, I’m excited for that.”

Rusk added the shift away from gender-based traditions — like homecoming king and queen — is something happening in districts across the state and not just in Brainerd.

Finding a compromise

The student council executive committee met again after Wednesday’s board meeting to take one more crack at a compromise, and their efforts paid off.

Meeting in the middle, they agreed to vote on a court of 10 students, though it does not need to be five boys and five girls. They can be 10 seniors of any gender, with the top three vote-getters being named ambassadors.

The Above and Beyond Warrior Awards will still be given out to two students from each grade. Students or staff members can nominate students for these merit-based awards.

“It’s someone who goes above and beyond what a student is asked to every day,” Rusk said during a phone interview Friday. “... There are students that have done something above that. And it might be in the community with service, it might be with their church, it might be in their neighborhood, being a help to their neighbors.”

A selection committee will then decide on the winners.

“I think it’s great,” Mulholland said of the compromise Friday afternoon. “I think that after taking a little bit of time and thinking over it all, it was a great compromise for what the community wanted and then what our students in our school wanted.”

She said having both the ambassadors and the Above and Beyond Warrior awards is a good idea.

“I’m glad that we were able to come to the conclusion that homecoming court is something that everyone wanted,” she said. “And then adding in another tradition is just as great as well.”

Mulholland said the students feel like their voices were heard by the end of the week after more people in the community started showing support for a traditional homecoming court.

Ambassadors and Above and Beyond winners will be recognized at the pepfest Oct. 8 and during halftime of the football game that night.

“And I just want to stress how the kids worked,” Rusk added Friday. “When they shared their positions, they were so respectful, and they were very kind to each other. And I would like to see more of that from our adults that are in positions where they make tough decisions.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

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