SIOUX CITY | The tradition of homecoming celebrations during the fall high school football season dates back roughly a century, but that doesn't mean festivities are static and staid.

While parades with bands and floats and, of course, football games remain homecoming staples, new elements have emerged, from organized kickball games to pep rally skits featuring fathers of the students.

East High Teacher Jamie Zyzda noted her senior year homecoming at East, when she was Jamie Mahnke, transpired 30 years ago this fall.

"It is neat to see the old traditions stay strong, but also how it has evolved with tweaks here and there," Zyzda said.

In some ways, homecoming has morphed to be more like the spring proms, since students often dress up, take group pictures with friends and dine at nice restaurants prior to the school dance.

One newer trend, which is also de rigueur these days with proms, is the large, public gestures students undertake -- and then splash on social media -- in wrangling dates for the homecoming dance.

Rylee Schager, a sophomore at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School, was ecstatic to receive a sweet gesture -- in more ways than one --from her homecoming date, Ben Freiberg.

"It was good. It was a 10," Schager said, of getting a huge poster with candy wrappers attached to many written lines of sweet sentiments, such as, "I've been searching the Milky Way for a date."

But not all pieces that are associated with proms have been swallowed by homecomings. Representatives of Black Tie Limousine and Donnie Mo's Bus-Ta-Move Party Bus in Sioux City said the practice of teen students getting specialty rides for prom generally hasn't extended to homecomings.

Additionally, Zyzda said homecoming dance attire is less formal than prom, even more casual than how kids dressed for homecoming when she was in school. She said another change compared to her high school days is that more underclassmen are getting involved in homecoming participation.

Homecoming activities were celebrated at two metro Sioux City high schools this week -- West and Bishop Heelan. South Sioux City High School's homecoming will be celebrated next week, through Sept. 23, while East High and Sergeant Bluff-Luton will each hold their festivities, Oct. 2-7.

Jeff Anderson, a senior at North High School, went to homecoming last week for a second year in a row. He's been part of the trend to have a nice meal in the city with friends before the Saturday dance -- at Bev's on the River as a junior and at the Japanese Steak House this year. 

Anderson said the goal is "to have a good meal, have good times with people... We treat it, by going out for a big meal, as a special experience."

He said the things he's observed on how people participate in city homecomings with meals and dances hasn't changed much in recent years, as he had two older brothers who did similar things.

Anderson over the week went to the North parade and pep rally, and he thinks organizers overall set fun activities.

"It was a pretty good experience, all the activities. Everything together, with the rally, made it a good experience," Anderson said.

Zyzda said at least half the East student body get enthused for the breadth of homecoming activities, while Schager estimated it might be higher at smaller schools such as SB-L, where three-fourths of students buy in. Schager said nearly all students go to the dance, whether with dates or kids going in groups of friends.

"A lot of people love homecoming week. I love it. It is motivation for the week. There is a lot offered, and people have fun with it. It keeps us busy throughout the week," Schager said.

The quest to get a dance date in 2017 no longer means teen boys skulking in hallways and then chickening out for days, until the right time arrives. Schager said pupils who nab dates through the grand gestures of posters and props often have smoothed the way, by inquiring through friends to know the response will be positive. Zyzda said such askings is a trend over the last five to 10 years, and she likes it.

"I think it is neat to see the kids' creativity," Zyzda said. "A good majority of them know the person will say yes."

Schager said once that date request is received, it will shortly be aired on social media.

"I think it is cool. Lots of people take pictures of the people they are going with and the poster," Schager said.

One new addition for Bishop Heelan's 2017 homecoming were food trucks, which served lunch at 11th Street and Grandview Boulevard Friday before and after the parade.

Heelan spokeswoman Janet Flanagan said one truck offered Mexican food while another, from Hy-Vee, served hot dogs and other items.

"Having food trucks is a first for Heelan’s homecoming," Flanagan said. "Everyone loves food trucks so we were excited. It’s a fun new highlight for all of our elementary school families who came for the parade. Having lunch is practical too, since our parade started at 12:30 p.m."

Gwendolyn Maldonado, a sophomore at North, went to her first homecoming dance last week. That came after she styled herself in line with themes of school's set dress-up days (Monday was Twin Day), and participated in the parade as part of the Gay-Straight Alliance group.

Maldonado sat in the student section for the North Stars football game: "We were shouting for the players, we were representing, even though we lost."

Last Saturday, she went out for pizza with friends at El Fredo's Westside Pizza, took pictures in a setup with a photographer at the school, then danced while nattily attired with classmates at North Middle School.

"I really enjoyed it. That was my first homecoming, so that was memorable for me," Maldonado said.

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County and education reporter

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