On Friday night University of Arizona alumni, students and families gathered by the Old Main Fountain to celebrate the annual Homecoming bonfire and crown the newest Homecoming King and Queen.
The event began at 7:30 p.m., with speakers such as UA Alumni Association President Melinda Burke, Athletic Director Dave Heeke and UA President Dr. Robert Robbins thanking everyone for coming out. The speakers also mentioned the football game, telling fans to get ready for some "duck hunting," as the football team is preparing to go head-to-head with the Oregon Ducks.
The Homecoming court was introduced along with who they were nominated by, and a drum roll led up to the crowning of the winners. Ahmed Al-Shamari was crowned 2018 Homecoming King and Jalon Jackson was crowned the 2018 Homecoming Queen.
Al-Shamari was nominated to the court by Mex-Zona, a church-led organization that hosts free medical clinics every month for the inner city population of Rocky Point, Mexico. Al-Shamari is the president of the organization and said he was proud to be able to represent his club by being nominated to the court. He is the first member of his family to attend the university and said that winning Homecoming King is an honor.
"Not only do I get the chance to be recognized by my peers and fellow Wildcats, I also get the chance to represent them in the best light that I could, and that's a really big responsibility, but it's also a really important privilege," Al-Shamari said.
Lots of alumni were present at the crowning and bonfire, as the 50-year reunion of the Class of 1968 took place this week. Delann Kurner-DeBenedetti, a 1968 graduate, was there with her husband of 49 years. They met at the university when she was a junior and he was a senior, reconnecting in Chicago after she graduated.
"We met, we went to dinner, he graduated a month later and I finished my senior year ... I always wanted to be an airline stewardess, so I flew for United Airlines which was out of Chicago where he was going to medical school. We reconnected ... and we were married in August of '69," DeBenedetti said.
Debenedetti and her husband now live in Tucson and come back to the annual bonfire as often as they can, sometimes accompanied by their children and grandchildren. They've been bringing their two grandchildren, ages 11 and 14, to the university games and events since they were young.
"I have two alumni children, two sons, who graduated from the University of Arizona. I hope the grandkids will follow suit," DeBenedetti said.
For some alumni, this year's Homecoming was the first one they have been back for. John Freeman, currently living in Phoenix, graduated in 1968 and came back for the 50th reunion to meet up with fellow alumni and enjoy the ceremonies.
"It's the 50th!" Freeman said.
As the large stack of wood pallets in front of the flagpole was set on fire after the King and Queen were crowned, The Pride of Arizona marching band played music, including the Arizona Fight Song, as people mingled, took photos, met old friends and made new ones.
Bill Hansen, a 1972 graduate, attended the festivities with his wife. They missed the actual bonfire, as they had a Homecoming event at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy at the same time. They live in Sierra Vista and try to come back every year for Homecoming. He said he is looking forward to his 50th reunion coming up in a couple of years.
"Four more years and we'll be at the 50 year reunion for alumni for the College of Pharmacy graduation. So hopefully we make four more years," Hansen said with a laugh.
The Homecoming Court met lots of alumni and attended events all week leading up to the bonfire. They celebrated with the university's honoraries and the Bobcats, the senior honorary group, planned events for them.
"You live the last four years trying to embody the best Wildcat that you can be, and this is kind of like that stamp of saying, 'You know what, we see you, we appreciate what you've done,'" Al-Shamari said.
The bonfire and crowning event went until 8:30 p.m. Homecoming activities continued Saturday with tents on the Mall, a tailgate party, the Homecoming parade and the Arizona vs. Oregon football game.
Follow Quincy Sinek on Twitter