Students steer Homecoming, Growl toward success
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As students file into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the culminating football game Nov. 5, it might be hard to imagine the hard work that goes into making Homecoming week happen.
But behind the fireworks, parade and pageant that define Homecoming are the students that make it possible, including Aaron Heger and Garrick Harding.
Heger is the producer of Gator Growl, billed as the largest student-run pep rally in the nation, and Harding is the general chairman of Homecoming. Both committed long nights and countless hours, balancing jobs, schoolwork and extracurricular activities to make sure all the events are a success.
Originally from Potomac, Md., Heger is pursuing a master’s degree in international business. Harding, from Merritt Island, Fla., is a senior pursuing a political science degree, preparing to attend law school and balancing two part-time jobs.
“I wanted to be a part of such a large-scale and historical event in any way possible,” Heger said. “For the last three years, I’ve been involved in multiple organizations and learned the importance of time management skills.”
Both also credit their experience attending their first Gator Growl as the reason for getting involved with Homecoming, and both have been on the Homecoming staff for the past three years.
“My freshman year I went to Gator Growl as a student and I remember watching the show in awe,” Harding said. “I couldn’t believe that students were the ones that put that on, and I knew I wanted to get involved immediately.”
As producer of Gator Growl, Heger is responsible for planning all aspects of the show, along with the 65 directors he oversees. From choosing the talent to marketing to budgeting decisions, Heger is involved in everything.
“My favorite part of being producer is watching a dream we started 11 months ago turn into a reality,” Heger said. “Working all that time for a three-hour production is an incredible journey, and it’s amazing to look back and think about the countless hours the entire staff put in to making this show happen.”
As general chairman of Homecoming, Harding is responsible for the nine events that culminate in the week prior to the football game. Those events include the parade, pageant, alumni BBQ, Soulfest and Gator Gallop, a 2-mile run or walk down University Avenue.
“Homecoming offers students the opportunity to connect with other students and the Gainesville community in a way only Homecoming can,” Harding said.
As producer and general chairman, Heger and Harding also have worked to improve Homecoming week by returning fireworks to Growl and moving the stage from the north end zone to the stadium’s east side as well as, adding the Swamp Symphony concert, in which fine arts students showcased their talents.
“Gator Growl is entering its 88th year and is one of UF’s oldest traditions,” Heger said. “This show hasn’t earned its name as the largest student-run pep rally in the nation for nothing. UF is proud to host an amazing Homecoming weekend, and students should understand how lucky they are to be a part of it.”
As Homecoming approaches, Heger and Harding said they gained much from their time as producer and general chairman, skills that they will be able to use well beyond graduation.
“I’ve definitely grown,” Harding said. “Being able to handle so many events with so many moving parts definitely improved my skills as a leader and team organizer.”
Said Heger: “The most important things I’ve taken away from being producer are the relationships I’ve created, both on a personal and professional level, and the experience running this major event. I’ve faced challenges over the last 11 months that I’ve learned to overcome by leaning on the people and resources around me.”
For more about Homecoming activities, visit www.gatorgrowl.org.
- Anna Quintana