Tag Archives: Millard School District


September 16, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and contributed

The origins of the first homecoming celebration are unclear. Baylor University, Southwestern University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Missouri have all made claims, dating back to around 1910, that they originated the concept. 

Regardless of when and where it started at the college level, within a few decades high schools across the country were hosting fall celebrations tied to a football game and dance that welcomed graduates back to visit their alma maters.

Although certain traditional elements like the election of royalty and a pre-game pep rally can be found at nearly all homecomings, among local schools, there’s no one right way to celebrate this event. 

“We do quite a few different things; we’ve made homecoming more into a weeklong celebration rather than a Friday night celebration at a football game,” says Ralston High School Spirit Squads Sponsor Jordan Engel. 

Volleyball and softball games are incorporated, a “Mr. RHS” pageant for male students is a popular tradition, “spirit week” activities, and a pep rally are part of the fun, Engel explains. The middle school hosts its own spirit week concurrently, and in past years the school has organized activities for the residents of Ralston from a recreational fun run to a bonfire with s’mores. “We try to change it up each year for families of the students and the community,” she says. 

Jeremy Maskel, Ralston School District’s director of external relations and engagement, says the community involvement is especially important for the small, close-knit city. 

“I’m not native to the area but when I joined the district it really struck me—the amount of alumni who continue to live in district and send their own children to Ralston [High School],” he says. “That intergenerational pride is something I haven’t seen in any other school community I’ve been connected to. Last year we did our first alumni and family tailgate before the homecoming [football] game and we’re looking for ways we can continue to bring alumni in the community back to really celebrate the district and the high school during that week.”

Westside High School has made its homecoming week a districtwide event, says Meagan Van Gelder, a member of the board of education and immediate past-president of Westside Alumni Association. She was also the 1987 Westside homecoming queen.

“Part of our goal is to keep the connection alive for our graduations, so we have tried to create a pathway for alumni to return home, and one way we do that is [with] a homecoming tailgate the Friday before the football game. In the past we had it in the circular area of the parking lot. Recently we have moved it to the grassy area on the alumni house with a nice buffet dinner. There is a parade in the neighborhood around the high school. There is a pep rally that follows the parade, and [that] is when they announce the homecoming court. There are fireworks after the game.”

Millard School District has three high schools, and each organizes its own homecoming activities. Millard West Principal Greg Tiemann says, “We’ve kept the week relatively the same since the building opened in 1995.” In conjunction with the designated football game, the Millard West Student Council coordinates themed dress-up days, a pep rally, and the elections for junior and senior homecoming royalty. The activities are mainly for the students.

Millard North’s student council also coordinates a homecoming week featuring themed attire days, a dance the week of the football game, and other schoolwide events. This high school, however, has abandoned the practice of electing a homecoming court. 

“As a ‘No Place for Hate’ school, and out of concern for protecting students from being bullied or excluded, Millard North has not recognized royalty since 2010,” says principal Brian Begley. “Instead, they make a concerted effort to engage and involve all students in homecoming activities, including those with special needs.”

Bellevue Public Schools’ two high schools coordinate some activities but most of the festivities are school-specific. Amanda Oliver, the district’s director of communications, says parent and student groups are involved in planning.

“Bellevue East has brought back an old tradition, a homecoming parade, the last two years,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot of alumni and former staff, long-time community members.”

Bellevue West now hosts a Unity Rally at the beginning of the school year. Although not technically a homecoming event, “It allows us to feature and highlight all our schools and all our kids, and we’ve seen the community piece behind that,” Oliver says.

Elkhorn also has two high schools that plan homecoming activities independently.

 “We have spirit days, a trivia competition about the school, a powder puff game and pep rally that introduces the homecoming court, the cheerleaders and dance team do a special dance and cheer at halftime together, Pinnacle Bank has a pep rally with hotdogs before the game, and the dance is Saturday night,” says Brooke Blythe, Elkhorn South’s cheer coordinator. She adds. “The middle schoolers always have their own section in the stands at the football game.”

According to Omaha Public Schools Marketing Director Monique Farmer, students at each of the district’s seven high schools organize their own homecoming events—and alumni are invited to them at many schools—and create unique traditions. Benson holds a classroom door decorating contest, Bryan has a pep rally at the stadium, Burke concentrates on targeted inclusion for special education students, and North and Northwest host parades. Last year, J.P. Lord School, an all-ages school for students with a variety of complex needs, hosted what Farmer believes to be its first homecoming dance. Parents were welcome and the evening’s culmination was the coronation of a king and queen. 

“That was pretty neat to see,” Farmer says.

Westside alumni association Immediate Past-president & 1987 Westside homecoming queen


Written By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

Photos contributed by Glenwood Opinion-Tribune

Homecoming is a huge celebration for this town of 5,300, which more than doubles in size for one fall weekend each year.

“I’ve been in other school districts, and it’s frequently a presentation of the king and queen at the football game and a dance afterwards. This town, this week, is amazing,” says Glenwood Schools Superintendent Devin Embray.

Beyond the coronation of a king and queen, Glenwood recognizes its 25-year reunion class as the “honor class.” Most of the class members return for this weekend in which they are honored at the pep rally and circle the town square twice during the parade. They are also a part of the Saturday-night coronation ceremony, as the past student body president gives a speech to the senior class that is similar to a graduation speech.

While many homecoming parades feature the high school classes, clubs, and athletics along with a few politicians, Glenwood’s parade includes at least 180 entries, with class floats from kindergarten through seniors; class reunion floats from five-year through 50-year and higher, entries from homeschoolers and special interest groups such as tractor clubs, and more. 

Coronation is open to the public and includes the presentation of pages, scribes, and gift bearers along with the king and queen. The prior year’s king and queen come back and sit in their thrones before turning them over to the newly-crowned monarchs.

“I can’t even explain the coronation—you have to see it to believe it,” says high school principal Richard Hutchinson.

Glenwood’s homecoming also includes the Outcasts, which was started by a group of non-native residents who felt like outsiders. This group now crowns their own king and queen each year, has a float and royalty car in the parade, and holds a separate dinner and dance.

“There’s so many people within the town that play a big part in this,” says Hutchinson. “The band parents have been the ones that oversee the king and queen nominations. There are parents in charge of the coronation. We have [community members] that oversee the parade…It is a community event.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

The Tale of Disney Elementary

November 27, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Walt Disney Elementary School in the Millard School District is a wonderful world, but you won’t find a castle anywhere on the grounds. Students don’t spend their days watching animated films, and there are no beloved Disney princesses and mascots roaming the halls.

Forty years after its opening in the Roxbury neighborhood off 108th and Q streets, staff and students still find that community members can be a little puzzled by the Disney name.

“I do get questions frequently about where that name came from,” says Principal Bethany Magana, who’s been with Disney six years. “I explain the process of how Disney got its name and we share the story.”

If you think Disney sounds like a name chosen by schoolchildren, you’re right. All Millard Schools are assigned a name by the Millard Board of Education, and in the early 1970s all Millard elementary schools were named for deceased famous Nebraskans like Mari Sandoz and J. Sterling Morton or for the neighborhood in which they were located (Holling Heights, Montclair). In 1974, only eight years after the death of Walt Disney, a 5th-grade girl—whose name has been lost to history—submitted an essay advocating for the Roxbury neighborhood school under construction to be named for Disney. The Walt Disney company agreed to give permission for use of the Disney name, the school board approved, and the children were involved in the process as well.

“We got to vote on the name of the school and we got to vote on the name of the mascot,” recalls former student Brad Utecht. “I remember them announcing to us that Disney won and we cheered.”

“Of course you’re thinking Disney World and Disneyland with Walt Disney, all those fun things for kids,” Micki Finkenbiner remembers, adding: “Mickey Mouse wasn’t there.”

“As kids, you do have this expectation of walking into this school and seeing Disney characters everywhere,” Mark Klein says. “Of course it was nothing like that, but it was nice because it was new.”

Before construction was complete, some of the teachers and students had to spend a few months in temporary space at what is now the Roxbury Plaza strip mall. Not only were they located next to a restaurant/bar (Robin Hood’s), but resourceful teachers had to hang butcher paper-wrapped cardboard to serve as dividers and sound batting, and they also wrapped cloth around the feet of the students’ chairs to counter the noise of the large, open space. There wasn’t much they could do about the cricket infestation, however, and everyone was thrilled to move to the new building, retired teacher Jane Slovenske says.

The Jiminy Crickets could have been a perfect mascot name, but with Disney officials denying rights to any of their characters, the students voted to become the Disney Dolphins.

“We thought, ‘Dolphins? We’re in a landlocked state and we’re the Dolphins?’” Slovenske says. “But the kids liked it and that was the main thing.”

It should also be noted that the Miami Dolphins were wildly popular at the time. The 1972 squad ran the table for the only undefeated season in NFL history, and the Dolphins had won back-to-back Super Bowls at the time of voting.

Utecht says that although he finds it a little amusing now, “We seriously thought, ‘How cool! We’re the Disney Dolphins!’”

Slovenske says that teachers and staff quickly learned to roll with the unusual name.

“When the school first opened, the first week or two the office kept getting these phone calls: “Is Mickey there? This is Minnie,” she says. “And then a few weeks later somebody else called and said,
‘This is Mickey. Have there been any messages for me?”

But soon everyone was taking the Disney name in stride.

“We just kind of laughed it off and just go on with making sure we were giving the kids the best education we could and prove that we weren’t just a ‘Mickey Mouse’ operation,” she says.

“I remember the staff was fantastic and a lot of those teachers I’m still in touch with,” Klein agrees. He’s now a Millard Public Schools teacher himself. “It was positive memories for me.”

“One thing that stands out with Disney Elementary school—within our school and within the community—is that we have a huge compassion for other people and a caring family,” Magana says. “The school community, the teachers staff, the students, they’re all such a strong family and that’s one of the traditions that’s always been here.”

It’s a small world, after all.