Plans for parking at WKU's Saturday homecoming.

Hundreds of hungry fans are expected to attend the Chili and Cheese Luncheon and Pep Rally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at 6-4-3 Sports Bar and Grill in Stadium Park Plaza to officially kick-off Western Kentucky University's Homecoming week.

Attendees can celebrate with WKU football coach Jeff Brohm, Big Red, WKU football players and cheerleaders at the pep rally at noon, and for $5 can enjoy a bowl of Wendy’s chili, a grilled cheese, a soft drink and a Country Oven Bakery dessert. Proceeds benefit Junior Achievement of South Central Kentucky.

Ginny Hensley, director of Alumni Programming and Alumni Relations, said the event has become a staple of the community kickoff, with more than 500 people attending each year. She said the event is a win-win for the community because it's in support of homecoming and also benefits a community organization.

The 2016 homecoming parade is at 5 p.m. Friday with campus members of groups, businesses and organizations carrying banners on foot or riding on full-scale floats. The parade route begins on the WKU campus at the intersection of College Heights Boulevard and Avenue of Champions and will travel up College Heights Boulevard, turn left onto State Street and end at Fountain Square Park.

Student organizations, residence halls and community members were encouraged to submit entries for the annual homecoming parade and float contest. Organizations are judged based on their adherence to the Homecoming theme, originality, color selection and overall street appeal. Immediately following the parade, a concert in Fountain Square Park will feature the Jordan English Band. Big Red’s Roar pep rally will follow the parade and concert in the park.

Also on Friday is the WKU National Pan-Hellenic Council Step Show at Van Meter Auditorium. Attendees can watch WKU's nine NPHC fraternities and sororities battle onstage in a series of dance steps, vibrant music selections and elaborate themes which are unique to the ritual identity of each chapter and its culture. The event begins at 8 p.m. Student tickets are $12 in advance or $17 at the door. Non-student tickets are $17 in advance and $23 the night of the show.

Tailgating begins at 10 a.m. Saturday on campus with the WKU football game against Old Dominion University kicking off at 6 p.m. at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

"We do a lot of the same events each year, but what makes it unique is the theme and it changes everything about it. It's what keeps homecoming exciting," Hensley said.

This year's theme "Oh, the Places You'll Go: A Ransdell Story" was chosen to commemorate WKU President Gary and Julie Ransdell's 20 years at the university before his retirement and to provide a concept the students can have fun with. The theme comes from the 1990 book by Dr. Seuss about creating your own destiny and having the world at your fingertips. Hensley said the theme represents the ideas that students are taught at WKU and celebrates Ransdell and the wonderful things he's done for the university.

This will be Ransdell's last homecoming as president of WKU, and he said it is one of those special times he and his wife treasure and will always enjoy.

"We've enjoyed homecoming when we were students; it's meant a lot to me as president, and you know what, next year we're going to be fans and alumni and we'll be about to enjoy homecoming from that perspective," Ransdell said. "That's just how our WKU life has unfolded with different chapters. It'll just be a different chapter at homecoming next year, but just as meaningful."

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Simone Payne is the faith and general assignments reporter for the Bowling Green Daily News. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English writing from Western Kentucky University in 2010 and is currently completing her Master of Arts degree.