COVID-19 keeps U of O homecoming staples at bay another year

Monday, April 19, 2021
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Officials with the University of Okoboji announced Monday the decision has been made to hold off on some traditional homecoming events. A number of events may yet move forward, but the marathon, triathlon, half-marathon and 10K run scheduled for July 17 will not be held this year.

"We haven't cancelled," U of O Director for Life Bob Rose said. "We just postponed it one more year, and we're going to do it in '22."

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U of O Director of Student Affairs Herman Richter said the decision involved input from several knowledgable individuals, and he feels the weekend's now-postponed sporting competitions are just one facet of the university's annual celebration. He noted events like trail rides, tennis, softball, performances at the Okoboji Summer Theatre and the weekend's homecoming dance may still happen. Ricther even said the U of O Soccer Classic, which typically takes place in June, expects a record-setting 50 teams to participate this year.

"I have such a positive feeling going into summer this is going to be such a great summer," Richter said, noting the success of U of O Winter Games. "They had great crowds for Winter Games, and the bottom line is that we still have to be responsible."

Up until last year, homecoming events like the marathon had only been called off in 1993 due to significant flooding Rose said that too was merely a year-long postponement rather than a cancellation. But U of O organizers announced in May of 2020 that the events would be put on hold for the second time in the university's history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rose said, while this year's July homecoming is still a ways out, there was a need to make the decision well ahead of the starting pistol. Richter said people from approximately 26 states were expected to come to the Lakes Area to participate in the various homecoming activities.

"We don't want to wait until July 1 to make a decision," Rose said. "We need to make it now and have people make their plans. Quite a few of the people have had their vaccines and that's good but not everyone, so we thought, in the interest of our participants, of our multitude of volunteers and the people it takes to do something right, it was best to just wait another year."

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As of Friday, local health officials said about 3,300 of Dickinson County's 17,000 year-round residents had been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus through the local public health office residents in local care facilities were covered under a separate state vaccination program. The latest report showed 121 cases of the respiratory disease to still be active in Dickinson County, and a total of 44 COVID related deaths have been recorded locally since March. Richter said implementing proper mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and face coverings, would be very difficult during the weekend's larger competitions especially given their heavy reliance on volunteers.

"It's just that we really respect the safety of the participants, volunteers and spectators," Richter said. "We're going to error on the side of caution."

Richter thanked the dedicated volunteers who helped make the university's homecoming a success in past years, and he invited the public to continue enjoying the natural amenities of the Lakes Area.

"We're anticipating one of the best summer's Okoboji's ever had," Richter said. "People are ready to get out, they're ready to be safe and we have to be safe."

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