Molly Casteel ’09, M.S. ’11 hadn’t missed an Illinois State Homecoming since starting as a freshman in 2005. But after saving for years for a trip to Europe, she had to get her groove on from abroad this year.

She didn’t leave her Redbird gear at home. Casteel and Scott Davis ’07 made sure to pack two Illinois State T-shirts for their trip, and they took a photo in front of historic Senate Square in Helsinki, Finland. Their roaming Redbirds’ long-distance Homecoming shot was chosen as winner of the 2012 Homecoming photo contest, earning them a free night at the Uptown Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

PHOTOS: See more entries in the 2012 Homecoming photo contest

Casteel and Davis did the math on the time change – Helsinki is eight hours ahead – and realized that they were taking that photo just as tailgating was getting under way outside Hancock Stadium back in Normal.

As a parade and tailgating aficionado, Casteel said she was bummed to miss her first Homecoming. She has embraced the Redbird Homecoming in part because the annual tradition was such a big deal at Casteel’s high school in western Illinois, which has since consolidated with a neighboring school district.

“My high school doesn’t even exist anymore,” she said. “Now I have ISU’s Homecoming.”

Casteel got both her degrees from the School of Communication and now works in marketing for Chestnut Health Systems in Bloomington. Davis graduated with a degree in finance and works as a financial planner with accounting firm CliftonLarsonAllen in Peoria. They live in Normal and are both involved in leadership roles with Illinois State’s Central Illinois Young Alumni Network.

“Because ISU is the place where I grew up so much, and had so many great experiences, that it’s cool to stay connected to people,” Casteel told STATEside.

It’s a safe bet they’ll be back for Homecoming next year, set for September 30 through October 6, 2013. Davis is a veteran tailgater himself, but there’s still one thing to scratch off the bucket list.

“I’m the only person I know who has not been to the parade,” Davis said.

Runner-ups in the Homecoming photo contest were Colleen Daniels and Steve Stout.

Ryan Denham can be reached at