For some Penn State fans, homecoming week is more than parades, once-a-year activities and a football game.
It’s a chance to go back home and reunite with people who were once like family.
On Saturday, Aimee Johnson reconnected with Stephanie Holmes Wilko.
The two Penn State Class of 1996 graduates became friends more than 20 years ago after they attempted to join a sorority but dropped out of the process.
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“I just remember thinking that it wasn’t for me and left one of the social events,” Johnson said. “I think it was Chi Omega. ... When I left, this other chick who ended up being Steph also left and said it wasn’t for her either. We just kind of hit it off then and there.”
They lived together for three years in an off-campus duplex, and though they promised to keep in touch, time and distance prevented that.
After graduation, Johnson moved back to her Richmond, Va., hometown, and Holmes Wilko became a financial adviser in Redding, Calif., where she settled with husband Dylan Wilko and two children.
But homecoming Saturday was their best chance to reconnect for the first time since the spring of 1996.
Holmes Wilko said the two rekindled a friendship through Facebook about seven years ago and planned to meet back up with their families for the 2015 homecoming game.
“We just planned to get together soon and figured this was our best bet,” Holmes Wilko said. “It’s been 20 years since the last Penn State homecoming we were at together.”
And the two said they didn’t skip a beat.
“It’s like we caught up right where we left off,” Johnson said. “Facebook made it easy to keep in touch even though we haven’t physically seen each other since the mid-90s.”
In the process of tailgating together, they also encountered more old friends — most who live in central Pennsylvania.
“Family goes beyond blood relatives,” Johnson said. “I spent four years here with people who were my family away from home, and it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen each other, they’re still a big part of your life. ... For me, State College was my second home, and it’s good to be back.”
The football game Saturday afternoon against Indiana was the finale of Penn State’s homecoming week with a 29-7 win.
The S-Zone in the student section of Beaver Stadium was pink and black to honor Penn State’s original colors.
According to Lion Ambassadors, it’s a throwback that began in 2008 for the homecoming games.
The student-run Penn State homecoming committee organized dance parties, hall parties, concerts, carnivals, field day activities, ice cream socials, parades and pregame activities.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the women’s basketball team held a “Hoop Shoot” on the sidewalk outside of Beaver Stadium before the noon kickoff.
It allowed the public to shoot baskets with team members and help raise money for Pennsylvania Pink Zone — an organization that raises money, awareness and outreach for cancer research.
“Pink Zone is a big part of our team and we do what we can to help,” said redshirt sophomore point guard Lindsey Spann. “We’re getting plenty of people, young and old, and just having a lot of fun. It’s things like this that makes it a great community to be a part of, and a great feeling to be able to interact with the community that supports us.”
Participants were asked to donate a dollar to shoot one basket, or $5 for six shots.
Doug Bower said he hasn’t bounced a ball in more than 25 years.
The 92-year-old from Camp Hill walked to a line in front of the basketball hoop about the same distance as a regulation free throw line, but then took three steps in front of it.
“I’m old now so I don’t have the strength I used to, to knock them in from that far back,” he said with a laugh.
When he took the shot, the basketball hit the backboard and dropped through the net. It was followed by dozens of high-fives from the basketball players and his family.
The Penn State women’s basketball team annually hosts a Pink Zone game whose proceeds also benefit the organization.