Iconic bonfire sets backdrop for Herd Homecoming

Featured twirler experiences full circle Marshall moment
| By Melanie Whitt
Freshman featured twirler, Emma Korstanje, performing at Marshall's homecoming bonfire.
Dive Deeper Learn more about Marshall featured twirler Emma Korstanje and Marshall's 2022 Homecoming Bonfire

As dusk falls on Downtown Huntington, there is a palpable excitement in the air. Generations of fans, young and old, line the streets. Children anxiously grip their empty bags, hoping to fill them with candy. The cadence of the Marching Thunder can be heard in the distance, echoing through the buildings on campus, as vibrantly shaded leaves slowly flutter to the ground in a chilly breeze.

It’s Homecoming at Marshall University.

“I always wanted to twirl in college. My coach was a featured twirler at Marshall and I wanted to do the same thing. I started when I was 7 and I never dreamed that I would be in the same place. It’s crazy.”- Emma Korstanje

One-by-one, student and community groups adorned with costumes matching the Homecoming theme Fun in the Sun! make their way through the parade route smiling and waving at onlookers, handing out candy and showing off their infectious spirit for the university they love.

The parade culminates with an iconic scene at the edge of campus – a pep rally and bonfire before the big game.

It’s scenes like these that still take Emma Korstanje’s breath away. She’s truly experiencing her Marshall moment. It’s one that she has dreamed of her whole life.

“I always wanted to twirl in college,” said Korstanje. “My coach was a featured twirler at Marshall and I wanted to do the same thing. I started when I was 7 and I never dreamed that I would be in the same place. It’s crazy.”

Emma with her coach, former Marching Thunder Featured Twirler Kylie Robbins

As a freshman, Emma is getting the chance of a lifetime. She’s now a featured twirler for her hometown university. She grew up just blocks away from campus and still can’t get over the feeling she experiences when she puts on her sparkly leotard with a green Marshall “M.”

“It’s so surreal,” said Korstanje. “I was like oh my gosh, this is really happening, pinching myself. This is really me and what I’m doing. It’s so exciting.”

As the Marching Thunder waits for the cue to play their next song, grounds crew workers on campus are having their own big moment. They wait all year for the evening when they create the magic that is the main event. Two men share jokes and laughter as they carry out another wooden pallet and toss it on the fire. Flames shoot up, a blast of heat hits the faces of onlookers in the crowd and the familiar roar and crackle that results, creates an ambiance that is unmatched.

“It’s so surreal. I was like oh my gosh, this is really happening, pinching myself. This is really me and what I’m doing. It’s so exciting.”- Emma Korstanje

All around Harless Field, students and fans walk with phones and cameras held high, trying to capture the unforgettable scene from their vantage point. The drumline counts down with a few clicks to set the pace and the band joins in, playing Buffalo Medley, a crowd favorite. Emma picks up her baton, this time, with fire engulfing the wick on each end.

“It’s very anxiety inducing,” said Korstanje. “I just have to breathe and have fun with it.”

She just twirled her first fiery baton a handful of days ago, so the experience is still new.

“I picked it up and I was very scared at first,” said Korstanje. “I was like ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh’ – as you can imagine, having to catch that is scary, but I worked up courage and it happened.”

Freshman, Exercise Science major Emma Korstanje from Huntington, WV

The crowd oohs and ahhs with every catch. The bonfire is still ablaze behind them, but their eyes are fixed on what Emma and her fellow featured twirler are doing instead. Meanwhile, Emma’s parents sit on the ground below with a jar of kerosene and a lighter, waiting to help reignite any time the fire goes out.

“They’re always there for me,” said Korstanje. “They never miss a game or performance for me and I really appreciate that. Not many people can say the same and I’m very thankful for them.”

Family is a common theme this week. For many alums, Homecoming is a time to make the trip back to campus and to reminisce and reconnect with old friends who feel like family. They may not share the same genes, but they do share a common bond. They all bleed green.

“It makes me feel really happy that I get to share this memory with a bunch of other people,” said Korstanje.

Those shared memories are what #HerdHomecoming and being part of the #MarshallUFamily is all about.