Indiana State University has canceled this fall's Homecoming activities because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Deborah Curtis announced during Friday’s board of trustees meeting.

The ISU football game is still scheduled for Oct. 24.

"It's never a statement a president ever wants to make," Curtis said. 

Making the decision to cancel Homecoming events "was incredibly difficult and it's totally based on the health and well-being of our students, our faculty and this community," the ISU president said. "We just really have to be conscious of that and I think it's a serious, serious situation we are in nationally and we need to be a responsible citizen of this community."

The 19-member ISU Homecoming Committee recommended canceling activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control on large events and gatherings. Canceled events include Tent City, the Blue and White Parade and trike derby.

The committee also believed that a large-scale celebration in late October would be inconsistent with ISU’s decision to finish the fall semester with mostly online instruction after Thanksgiving.

University leaders also consulted with Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett; some businesses that will be affected; the alumni board and campus governing groups. Curtis told trustees that "100 percent of the feedback" from those groups was supportive.

"I will assure you we are going to be very diligent in planning for an even better Homecoming in fall 2021 and will engage in that work beginning now," Curtis said.

The Oct. 24 football game against Missouri State is still scheduled, although the Missouri Valley Football Conference Presidents Council has said “patience is warranted regarding any decision to modify the 2020 fall season … as long as there remains a possibility to provide a safe competitive opportunity for MVFC student-athletes.”

Interviewed after the meeting, Rex Kendall, executive director of ISU's alumni association, said, "I've been in this job 7 1/2 years, and this was one of — if not the most difficult decision — I've had to participate in. Our alums and the Terre Haute community love homecoming, but ultimately it came down to the safety of students, alumni, friends and partners in the city of Terre Haute — we just had to cancel for safety."

Homecoming draws thousands to downtown Terre Haute for the annual Blue and White parade, as well as participation in an unofficial, non-ISU sanctioned event known as “The Walk.” The Walk is a pub crawl in which students, alumni and others walk about 20-plus blocks from downtown Terre Haute along Wabash Avenue to Memorial Stadium. 

Among the businesses that benefit from Homecoming is the Ballyhoo. "It's disappointing, but understandable," said Jay Knott, Ballyhoo Tavern owner.

Alexis Green, manager at the Saratoga, said, "We're not surprised by the news, just because of everything going on in the world now. We expect changes all the time."

The Blue and White parade "is something the community really enjoys. It's kind of sad to hear it won't happen ... Hopefully next year, things will get back to the way they were," Green said.

On Oct. 24, Saratoga business may "take a hit, but we've got a lot of support from the community and I think they'll support us in other ways."

She believes some people who really look forward to the pub crawl "might have their own form of The Walk" that day. "I wouldn't be surprised if you still see some people walking, but I can't imagine it would be in the same manner as it has been in the past," she said.

 At Saratoga, "We haven't discussed anything. We'll have to wait and see what happens," Green said.

Sandy Boyles-Gillen, owner of Sonka Irish Pub, said, "I certainly was not surprised and somewhat relieved." While the pub could use the business, like all other establishments, "We were thinking about not participating this year in the first place. We want to make sure the pub is safe for everyday customers," she said.

Sonka's has operated outside for past Homecomings, but this year, "We could not figure a way to keep a safe environment for everybody ... We'll be ready to open for Homecoming 2021 for sure."

Among the alumni who look forward to ISU Homecoming are Brent and Jennifer Compton. Upon learning the news, Brent described it as "deflating." ISU Homecoming "is always a great time to re-unite with alums from out of town who come back each year," he said.

The owner of Pacesetter Sports, he also partners with ISU athletics and helps run the merchandise tent at football games. Homecoming "is the most phenomenal day of the year," he said. "People are incredibly excited and incredibly proud to be back on campus."

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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