School spirit and tradition are at the forefront of the minds of students, faculty and alumni as Dakota Days approaches.
Whether it’s planning events or ensuring student safety, several organizations are involved in preparing the weeklong homecoming festivities.
Jessie Sadlon, a senior medical biology major and overall chair of the Dakota Days committee, said planning begins as early as November the year before.
“We recruit and put together our new board around November and then the end of December, before Christmas break, we try to have a good idea of what the theme will be next year,” Sadlon said. “In January, we start planning right away.”
Sadlon said planning begins with the basics – the committee starts with the theme then moves on to outlining what each day will look like. After that, their planning gets more and more detailed as the week gets closer. This year’s theme is “Backed by Tradition.”
“We’ve stuck to similar events with changes just over the years depending on what students like and what brings them into certain events,” Sadlon said. “The same things that happen in the past and then we try to add on, I guess like building on tradition just according to what’s popular.”
Student life also helps plan Dakota Days. Kim Grieve, dean of students and vice president of student services, said most events are planned by the Dakota Days committee, but student life helps by incorporating some alcohol-free events into the week.
“We have a Zumba party that goes through the Wellness Center and the Wellness Center planned Dakota Fun Run, so just some other things the students have an opportunity to be involved in,” Grieve said.
Many Dakota Days events remain constants from year to year because of their historical significance, Grieve said.
“Of course the parade and the king and queen — those events are historical,” she said. “Some of the other events change each year, but usually the Wellness Center does their alcohol-free events each year and the Campus Activities Board (CAB) also usually plans some sort of event as well. This year they have a comedian.”
The Alumni Association and USD Foundation are also very involved in planning Dakota Days events. Michelle Green, vice president for constituent engagement at the USD Foundation, said their planning begins in April or May.
“We have to get a couple of things really organized before our wonderful students leave for the summer,” Green said. “We have a couple of things that we try to decide before the students take off in May, and that kind of varies a little bit. We try to have some conversation about who the parade marshall will be and about the timing of each of the activities to make sure that we don’t have things that are competing for crowds.”
Green said they also try to have a schedule mapped out by the time everybody leaves in May. During the summer the Alumni Association “gets to dig into the details” by talking about show flows and event setups.
“Then details, details, details,” Green said. “That’s an events planner’s secret weapon — just remembering all those details. Everything from making sure our guests have a place to park to making sure that they know where to get their tickets for the great football game and they know what time the parade starts.”
The Alumni Association’s signature event is the alumni achievements awards banquet that takes place on Friday of Dakota Days. Green said this year they’re presenting awards in the following categories: service to the university, public service, professional achievement and emerging leader.
“We have a set of criteria for each of those awards and we have a committee of the Alumni Association Board of Directors who reviews all of the nominees,” Green said. “We had a wonderful pool of nominations this year; more than we’ve had in awhile. So it really speaks to the caliber of alum here at USD.”
Dan Gaston, senior associate athletic director, said when it comes to preparations for the athletics department, they bring in more help wherever they can.
“Concessions staff up and everyone is always worried about the restrooms,” Gaston said.
Gaston said the homecoming game is really no different than any other game, other than its high attendance.
“You still set up all the parking lots, you still set up your staff, it just gets ramped up a little bit more,” Gaston said. “With D-Days comes just more people here on campus. The west lot will close down, we won’t have any parking. The student tailgate, that will be the difference between any game, there’s no other time where that’s the way it is.”
Making safety a priority
Jef Rice, University Police Department lieutenant, said UPD’s main priority during Dakota Days is remaining visible.
“We want everybody to know we’re here, all they need to do is call us if they need us,” Rice said. “I just want everybody to have a safe D-Days. Just like every year I want everybody to have fun, and if they need anything, we’re here to help them. Doesn’t matter how little they think it is, we’ll answer their questions for them.”
Grieve said she wants everybody to remember what they learned at the alcohol trainings in the residence halls and at the safety training during orientation.
“At tailgate we make sure all students that are 21 are ID’d and have a bracelet,” she said. “We have police officers there that will be watching to make sure everyone is safe, and we’ll be watching during the week to make sure everyone is safe as well.”
It takes a university
Grieve said the entire university is involved in making the week as wonderful as it can be.
“The students are involved, the staff of student life is involved, the Alumni Foundation are involved with getting the grand marshall for the parade,” she said.
Green said the week requires collaboration from all departments on campus.
“This is really our one shot to bring back the greatest crowd of alumni throughout the year,” Green said. “We really have to work as a team in order to be prepared to welcome all these great (alumni) back. There is something about Dakota Days. There’s a buzz in the air, and you can feel the excitement and it builds that whole week.”