Homecoming week at Newman University is filled with dress-up days, free lunchtime treats for students and voting for homecoming royalty — all of which lead up to the culmination of basketball games and an energized crowd of Newman fans.
The Newman Troubadours, directed by Deanne Zogleman, performed the national anthem before the basketball games in the Fugate Gymnasium. Additionally, the games featured live music throughout, thanks to the 99-person Wichita Heights High School Band in attendance.
The women’s halftime featured a performance by the Cheer and Dance team, quickly followed by a sweep of the floor with alumni Kirk Lester ‘74 and recent Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Tim Eckberg ‘76. Three Newman students attempted their best halfcourt shots. These student-athletes were women’s soccer player Maggie Bielefeld, men’s golf player Braxton Muldoon and men’s baseball player Trevor Pacheco.
Moments after the last student’s halfcourt throw, Lester stretched his arms, picked up a basketball and encouraged audience cheers before his own attempt at a halfcourt basket. Instead of tossing the ball from the halfcourt line, he dribbled all the way to the base of the basket and landed a layup instead. Lester wasn’t deprived of cheers for cheating, however. The student section was quick to give him high fives for his comedic performance.
Homecoming featured two hotly contested MIAA conference clashes. The women’s basketball team took to the floor first against the Northeastern State Riverhawks. The Jets jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead and built a comfortable cushion at half before staving off a late rally by the Hawks. The 74-66 victory earned Newman a season series sweep of Northeastern.
Head coach Drew Johnson said there are two games that stand out every season: senior night and homecoming. The atmosphere of the 2023 homecoming games could be summed up in one word: “unbelievable.”
“During those games, you’ve gotta represent more than just the current players in the locker room and homecoming night,” Johnson explained. “You’re representing all the former players who are back, the university and all the efforts that everybody else gave.”
After the women’s game, the Newman men’s basketball team took to center stage. Following the lead of the ladies, the men also started strong. They held an 8-point advantage over the Riverhawks at half and then doubled their margin to 16 just seven minutes into the second half. Newman won the game 79-74 behind junior Latik Murphy, who scored 25 points. Jet teammates Stevie Strong, Sam Somerhalder and Thomas Zevgaras also added double-digit scoring performances to help NU earn its five-point win.
The basketball teams were joined in the Homecoming Day victory circle by the Jet tennis teams. Women’s tennis hosted Pratt Community College and won their match 7-0. The Newman men’s squad beat the Beavers 6-1. Both home matches were played at Genesis West courts.
Crowning homecoming royalty
It is a Newman University tradition that at halftime of the men’s game on homecoming night, students nominated to the homecoming court are honored and the king and queen are announced.
This year’s candidates for homecoming king were Marcus Lines, John Suffield, Austin Schwartz and Alex DeHoet. Homecoming queen candidates were Hadassah Umbarger, Lauren Esfeld, Michelle Tong, Talia Powers and Elizabeth Raehpour.
Both the king and queen were humbled and shocked to win their crowns, but couldn’t have been happier to end their senior years on this high note alongside friends.
“When I first came here, I had a somewhat hard time making friends just because of COVID,” said Elizabeth Raehpour, a criminal justice major with minors in choral music and pre-law. “So being crowned homecoming queen is very sweet and I’m so honored.”
Raehpour truly made the most of her time at Newman with her various on-campus roles. She serves on the Student Government Association (SGA), the Pi Gamma Mu Honors Society, is a member of the President’s Student Cabinet and is active with the chorale and troubadours. Of all her commitments to Newman, her chorale and troubadour family stands out as her favorite.
“Out of the other people on the court, there were a lot of members of choir and theater, and I think that we’ve really found a family with each other there,” she said.
Raehpour plans to attend the University of Kansas for law school after graduation in May. Raehpour credits several campus mentors to her growth as a student, leader and individual.
“Off the top of my head, I’m thinking of three people who wrote me letters of recommendation for law school,” she said. “Christine Schneikart-Luebbe (vice president for enrollment management and student success), Chris Fox (associate professor of philosophy) and Kristi Barton Edwards (assistant professor of criminal justice). I’d also like to give a shout-out to my family and all of my friends.”
For Schwartz, being on the court at all came as a big surprise.
“Hearing my name was just absolute shock,” he said. “It means a lot to know that I have made such an impact on all of my fellow students and peers at Newman University and that they appreciate all the effort and time I put into this school for them.”
Schwartz is an English and theater double major with a minor in history. He is a member and co-captain of the Sloppy Joe Improv Team, an SGA senator, a staff member for The Vantage student newspaper, served as president of the Newman Theater Club and performed in approximately 20 Newman theater and music productions. Like Raehpour, Schwartz was a member of the chorale and troubadours and loved every minute of his experiences.
“If I had to pick my favorite music experience, it would be ‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid,’” he said. “My favorite show that I did was ‘Mama Mia,’ and play-wise, ‘Cafe Noir’ was a blast. I also enjoyed ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’”
Schwartz would like to thank Director of Music Deanne Zogleman, Associate Professor and Director of Theater Mark Mannette, English professors Susan Crane-Laracuente and Bryan Dietrich, as well as Assistant Professor of Theology Matthew Umbarger for helping him grow both in academics and in life throughout his time at Newman.
As far as post-graduation careers go, the world is Schwartz’s oyster.
“I would not be opposed to working as an alum at Newman,” Schwartz said. “I also love writing of any kind and I’d love to get a novel out eventually. I’d also love to be a teacher to older kids, because that’s the point when you can really help someone figure out what their calling in life is and help them pursue it.”
Heritage Month continues with the Athletics Winter Sports Alumni Reunion Feb. 18, the St. Newman Mass and High Tea Feb. 21, Giving Day Feb. 28, ASC Fountation Mass March 3 and finally the ASC Day of Spring Renewal Prayer for Newman University Students March 4.
View Heritage Month events
Heritage Month is full of events that celebrate Newman University’s heritage, founders and namesake.