On its 70th anniversary, the star of Western’s Homecoming was neither its spectacular football game nor its perennial, purple-clad festivities.
It was Donald Trump.
In its fourth year since the university’s widely-criticized decision to change the event’s date to the middle of October, Western’s official Homecoming engaged the general student body only through the unexpected arrival of an orange-tinted impersonator who strolled the main bleacher stands of TD Stadium in full presidential dress.
Flanked by two “bodyguards” and donning a purple hat that appeared to read "Make HOCO Great Again”, the president stole the show in the middle of the Mustangs’ exhilarating game against the University of Ottawa.
Videos of the man were immediately posted to major Instagram party pages, including Western Savages and Canadian Party Life.
The impersonator’s resemblance to Trump in his portly shape, leathery skin, and uncanny mannerisms sowed confusion in the comment sections of each post. Pantomiming the signature Trump wave and shaking hands with audience members, the President made his way across the bleacher stand’s lowest level before disappearing into the crowd.
And so, despite a competitive 32-23 victory against one of Ontario University Athletics' top teams, capping off another perfect regular season run for the Mustangs, the most popular Homecoming moment was a 15-second video of an elaborate prank.
The moment was like HOCOs of old, when students were a disruptive part of the event — before the date was pushed to midterm season. Instead of Saugeen-Maitland Hall's 50th birthday and the coming-home of former students, it's a fat man in a purple hat that students will remember.
The 'real' HOCO passes by students
The event saw some success in its enthusiastic alumni turnout — now the primary group to which Homecoming is catered.
A 19 and above open alcohol area offered drinks and a tented view of the game in the main event area outside the Michael Kirkley Mustang Training Centre. Close by, several carnival-style games and attractions dotted the area beside the main bleachers. On display was a purple bouncy castle, complete with a matching horse head jutting half-inflated out of the side, a large silver slide and a child-friendly foam-tipped archery range.
Needless to say, alumni, especially those with young children, had an ample selection of activities to enjoy in addition to the game.
The game itself began with Brescia University College's president performing the ceremonial coin toss in celebration of the affiliate college’s centennial. In honour of the event, the Western Mustang Band played several covers of hit songs by prominent female artists such as Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
The half time show saw a performance by rising country artist David Boyd Janes whose admirable attempts at rousing the crowd were met with resounding disinterest.
Whether the choice of an up-and-coming country artist as the halftime performer was intentional to keep the event family friendly, it was ultimately a predictable entertainment failure. The only attendees that could be seen paying direct attention to the show were those in the 19 and above section who were situated right beside the small stage.
Students' place in Homecoming is up in the air. Western has tried to draw students in, giving them free football tickets this year. But in the event's relationship with Fake Homecoming, Western officials have distanced the October event from the student body. Last year, as senate dealt with the aftermath of that year's Fake HOCO, vice-president external Kelly Cole said the date switch was successful, in that it dealt with complaints from alumni who saw their event overrun by the Broughdale bash.
As few students as there were, those that attended expressed how much they enjoyed the electrifying match between Western and Ottawa.
For Haley Hunt, fourth-year BMOS student, the game was still entertaining for her, despite not knowing much about football.
“The game was a lot of fun,” says Hunt. “I thought more students would come but it was nice to see so many [alumni] coming with their families.”
The bleachers, while dotted with purple gear, had room for more. Western said 5,132 people attended, making it the second-most popular game of the year so far. 9,700 attended the OWeek game against Queen's University. This observation was not lost on the alumni themselves as many were visibly confused by the lack of students and several wondered aloud why the student bleachers were completely empty since in previous years, the main bleachers were alumni-only.
Todd Skinner, who graduated in 1988 with a degree in sociology and economics, believes that a strong student presence at Homecoming is a core part of the event.
“I really, really wish the students were sitting in those seats across from us,” says Skinner. “I think it’s a big mistake not to have them… If that means moving homecoming a little earlier, that’s fine. The alumni have flexible schedules, you don’t need to work around the alumni – work around the students. Make it a safe and structured event and I think it would be that much better.”
But, through four years of Fake HOCO's resistance, Western hasn't publicly entertained moving back the date.
Thus, Homecoming 2019 was, and stands to continue being, yet another inconsequential blip on students' social radar.
But hey, maybe we’ll get Putin next year.