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VIKING FEVER

ECSU Homecoming paints town blue

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Members of the Elizabeth City State University Band march through downtown Elizabeth City during the university's Homecoming Parade on Saturday.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Elizabeth City State University alumni, students and members of the local community lined the streets of the town Saturday for a festive parade and enjoyed hot dogs, grilled pork chops and other delights at tailgate parties in Roebuck Stadium as ECSU celebrated Homecoming 2017.

Many of the alumni were in town Thursday night to enjoy a concert by the Temptations Review, while current students as well as some younger alumni turned out for a hip hop concert on campus Saturday.

For Roscoe Hager of Durham, ECSU Homecoming is part of a family tradition that goes back to 1958. The first Hager to attend ECSU was his uncle, William Hager, who started that year.

Hager’s father, Roscoe Hager Sr., came in 1959 and his mother, Anna Hager, started in 1960.

Since then, Hager’s two sisters, three aunts and two nieces have all attended ECSU.

“We are Elizabeth City, through and through,” he said.

Hager, a positive behavior intervention and support coordinator for the Durham Public Schools, attended ECSU Homecoming with his parents in 1966 and has been coming ever since. For the past three years Hager and his wife, Kimberly Hager, who is assistant superintendent for human resources for the Durham Public Schools, have tailgated in the same spot at the stadium.

“You can’t beat this university for the atmosphere and the family camaraderie,” Hager said.

Kimberly Hager attended N.C. Central University in Durham, but she said she also enjoys coming to Elizabeth City for Homecoming.

This year the couple did not stay in a hotel but found a waterfront house in Camden through Air B&B. They said service has been great at area restaurants and the city is always very welcoming to alumni who came for Homecoming.

The Hagers said they enjoy the Elizabeth City community whenever they return for Homecoming or other events such as professional conferences.

Ernest Lee, David Strickland and Greg Henderson were part of a group of college buddies tailgating Saturday.

Lee, who attended ECSU from 1980-1984, is from Greenville and works at Pitt Community College as director of outreach. Strickland is a Newport News, Va., native who now lives in Columbia, S.C. He attended ECSU from 1978-1982. Strickland is a retired Virginia state employee who now owns an ABC store in South Carolina.

Henderson also hails from Newport News but now lives in Baltimore, where he works as an information technology consultant. Henderson attended ECSU from 1979-1983.

The group comes to Homecoming every year and enjoys tailgating at the stadium. Busy getting the grill fired up and making other preparations for the day’s cooking was Jeffrey Gatling, a Newport News native who now lives in Washington, N.C.

Lee said one of the fun things about Homecoming is having the opportunity to meet and interact with the university’s current students. Strickland said the camaraderie is great and noted that students enjoy meeting alumni, also.

“A lot of them come through and we feed them,” Strickland said.

Strickland said ECSU will always be an important part of their lives because of the crucial role it played in their development.

“This is where we turned from teenagers to men,” Strickland said.

The university’s contribution didn’t end with their time here, either. Homecoming continues to make a difference in their lives year to year.

“It’s a major networking opportunity,” Lee said.

Lee said he is excited to see how the university has grown since his time here. “Major changes since we left — beautiful changes,” he said. 

Strickland said he thinks the university is in for a major growth spurt beginning next year when the state’s NC Promise tuition discount is implemented at ECSU and two other campuses in other parts of the state. The NC Promise program will offer tuition at $500 a semester for in-state students and $2,500 a semester for out-of-state students.

For Ben Rhodes, a Waterbury, Conn., native who attended ECSU from 1972-1977 and now owns a financial services company in Connecticut, financial aid was a significant reason he chose to attend ECSU back in the 70s.

“They gave me some money and I came here,” he said. “I got accepted here and at Hampton Institute and I got more money here.”

Rhodes, who was tailgating with fraternity brothers from Iota Phi Theta, said he enjoys coming to Homecoming every year. He said the group typically feeds the high school band after the Homecoming Parade as just one way of giving back to the community.

Rhodes said Homecoming is a chance to catch up on what is happening at the university. He said that under the leadership of Chancellor Thomas Conway “it appears everything is going a lot better now.”

He came down from Connecticut on Wednesday and has enjoyed shopping and other activities in Elizabeth City.

“The city has been real good to us,” Rhodes said.

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