Harding’s Homecoming offers graduated athletes an opportunity to return home to meet with old teammates, coaches and other Bison alumni, as well as a chance to interact with and inspire current Bison athletes.
Bisons Head Football Coach Paul Simmons played football for the Bisons from 1991 to 1994. During that time, he said the Homecoming football game was not nearly as big as it is now.
“There was no brotherhood walk,” Simmons said. “The tailgating was very slim. There were a few faithful groups, but it was nothing like it is now.”
Simmons said he has no idea exactly how many former players plan to come back for the Homecoming game, but he is excited about the energy the larger crowd will bring.
“You take our students, and you throw in all the alums that are here, a lot of them just for that one day and just the energy and passion that has [been] shown,” Simmons said. “It means a lot to our guys.”
Homecoming also allows for members of the athletic department to reconnect. Simmons said he is looking forward to seeing many of his former players come back to Searcy.
“When you coach, you’ve got a kid for four or five years, and that guy becomes like a son,” Simmons said. “When your son’s been gone for over a year, to get them to come back and hug them and love them is a huge deal.”
Across Gin Creek at Jerry Moore Field, the baseball team will host its annual alumni baseball game following the Homecoming football game. This is the second year the game will be played under the lights at Jerry Moore Field.
Turnout for the event varies from year to year, according to Bisons Head Baseball Coach Patrick McGaha, but he says in recent years an average of 25 men show up to play in the pickup game.
“It is just always neat to see the camaraderie of seeing that no matter how many years it’s been and no matter which coach you played for when you were here, they’re still Bison baseball guys, and they love coming back and seeing each other,” McGaha said.
McGaha said in the past, he has invited alumni to come talk to the current team about some of the things they have experienced since graduating from Harding.
“It is great to hear that after all these years, Bison baseball still has a positive influence on them, and it is still something they want to be a part of,” McGaha said.
Harding Head Men’s Basketball Coach and Athletic Director Jeff Morgan said that outside of the high number of alumni on campus, Homecoming week is like most other weeks of the year.
“[The coaches] are getting ready for another game,” Morgan said. “They are trying to block out all the outside things going on and focus on getting their players ready. But, obviously, there’s a lot of excitement around it.”
Simmons echoed Morgan’s claim, saying his team is going about things just as they would every week. However, he said he wants to be able to show the alumni that the team’s spirit has not changed.
“There certainly are more distractions, and they’re all positive,” Simmons said. “But we still have … to work really hard to make sure our guys are not caught up in Homecoming festivities as opposed to getting ready to play.”