Changing the face of popularity

Unconventional ad campaign helps friends realize 4-year dream


Noah Johnson

Homecoming King Pierce Brubaker and Homecoming Queen Raegan Leonard celebrate their coronation moments after their victory. Photo by Noah Johnson

It’s Friday night of Homecoming week. Set against a vivid yet calming cotton-candy sunset, The Chargers are 28-0 against the Northrop Bruins. The student section of the game is energetic and lively, although many have been anticipating the following moment even more than the game itself: the announcement of Homecoming King and Queen.

The eight nominees for king and queen walk down the track, their arms linked with those of their parents or guardians. All wear nervous smiles.

But, despite the anticipation, everyone knows what is about to happen – and everyone is ecstatic when it does.

“Your 2019 Carroll High School Homecoming King is Pierce -” The announcer’s pronunciation of “Brubaker” is drowned out by the countless screams of the Carroll Students as Pierce Brubaker steps forward to be adorned with the highly coveted large blue crown.

“I believe it is safe to say that this victory has brought unity to our school,” senior Luke Stockel said in a social media post following the game.

It is a dream that many Carroll students wanted to make a reality. It is a dream that began three years ago.

“Freshman year, when we did the superlatives, Xander Hoffman had this idea to get everyone to vote for Pierce, as this big meme. And we got a lot of votes. We’ve just been talking about it, talking about it. And we decided that senior year we had to make him homecoming king,” senior Zayan Habib said.

The idea was once again brought up after three years during a card game between Brubaker and his friends. Then, during a trip to Wings Etc., the idea for the Instagram page was born.

Brubaker says that when his friends first proposed he run for king he was “…nervous because it’s not the sort of thing I do. I’m shy usually.”

The “piercebrubaker4homecoming” Instagram page was created even before the 2019-2020 school year began – the first post, a picture of Pierce dabbing, was posted on August 5 and had 93 likes.

By the time the Homecoming Court videos were released, the account’s posts regularly had over 180, with the final post receiving 297. The hashtag “PB4HK” became a common sight — it even appeared on the banner that the Powderpuff Cheerleaders broke through at the Homecoming Friday pep assembly.

“Pierce has been one of my best friends since first grade and I thought it would be cool if he won,” senior Xander Hoffman said.

Raegan Leonard hides in a trash bin in order to talk to Pierce Brubaker in their video campaign for Homecoming King and Queen. The team’s video produced laughs from students. Photo courtesy of Pierce Brubaker

The campaign to get Brubaker the crown soon extended beyond social media – posters depicting the now infamous dab were soon displayed around the school, and when those stopped being enough, a large 6’ by 4’ poster decorated with a Burger King crown labeled “Homecoming King” dominated the commons.

Senior Grant Badgely even designed a logo for the campaign, a cartoon rendition of Brubaker with the caption “Pierce vs. The World.” This logo was quickly put on stickers that were distributed among the student body and commonly worn on shirts.

“It’s been fun,” Brubaker said mere hours before the Homecoming football game, “I dab in pictures, people say I’m Homecoming King in the hallway, and that’s fun. People shouting that I’m Homecoming King in the hallway, that’s not fun.”

Brubaker was not alone in his campaign for long, however. On August 27, it was officially announced that Raegan Leonard was running with Brubaker to be on the Homecoming Court.

“I’m friends with the ‘council’, and I just asked them if Pierce wanted anyone to run with him, and that if so I would love to run with him. That’s the only reason I would get myself involved with this sort of thing,” Leonard said.

On Thursday August 6, it was announced during first period that Brubaker and Leonard had both successfully made it onto the Homecoming Court. The next step was to make the video to be shown to the school on September 11 when the votes for King and Queen were to be cast.

“Me, Raegan, Xander and a bunch of other guys got together with Grant Badgley at the school. The original idea was to dab on the roof of the school with Raegan slowly zooming in, but that would have taken a lot of time. And then we asked, ‘What is Pierce good at?’ – and it’s being awkward,” Brubaker said.

Brubaker and his supporters took this idea and ran with it. The final video consisted of Leonard chasing Brubaker around the school in an attempt to ask him if he would accept her as his queen. Brubaker, depicted as unaware of her motives, ran away and hid in a closet to avoid her. One of the more memorable scenes featured Brubaker escaping into the men’s restroom, where he joins his campaign managers – Habib, Hoffman, Stockel, and senior Daniel Madison – in a stall where they clue him in to Leonard’s wishes. The video even managed to include another iconic Brubaker dab.

The video proved popular with the student body, and was featured last in the lineup of Homecoming Court videos, allowing for a buildup of suspense leading up to it. It did not hurt matters that one of the competitor’s videos featured two of the other candidates, Luke Stockel and Avery Sudderth, wearing shirts reading “VOTE FOR PIERCE,” which they also threw into the crowd at the pep rally.

Brubaker said despite his initial concerns about running for king, “It’s been fun in the end.”

Senior Pierce Brubaker is surrounded by a mob of his supporters following his win. Photo by Noah Johnson.

At the Friday pep assembly, the sixteen members of the Homecoming Court circled the field house, throwing candy into the crowd, although it was clear that the students cared more about Brubaker and Leonard than the candy they were throwing.

Chants of “Pierce! Pierce! Pierce!” rang throughout the field house, and many students gave the two a standing ovation – the only team to receive one. Some students sitting in the juniors’ section even saluted.

Brubaker’s high levels of support stem from his personality that made him stand out from the typical Homecoming King candidate.

“Pierce is a pretty quiet guy, doesn’t talk to many people. It was the perfect underdog story,” Habib said.

At the Homecoming football game, following the announcement that Brubaker was king and Leonard was queen, the two walked alongside the track, and Brubaker was surrounded by a rambunctious mob of his supporters, jumping around him and cheering.

The two smiled as a circle of photographers – ranging from representatives from Studio 415 to family members to one lucky journalist from The Charger Online – surrounded them.

“I’m so glad that I can represent everyone at Carroll. It’s a great honor,” Leonard said the Monday following her win.

“All I can say is thank you to everyone who helped make this dream a reality,” Stockel said in a social media post, “He was just a nice kid that not very many people knew. By the end of it, his name was the most spoken name heard in the halls of Carroll High School. Because of your support, we broke the stereotypes of popularity. You helped a shy young man break out of his comfort zone and realize how many friends and how much support he has. I’m proud that we will be leaving an unprecedented legacy at Carroll. We love you Pierce. Long live the King.”

“The group of boys that did this was great,” Leonard said, “I loved Luke’s post – they had a purpose, to change what homecoming king and queen was about.”

The most loyal supporters surround Seniors Pierce Brubaker and Raegan Leonard. Photo by Noah Johnson

“The pb4hk campaign was built on three things: memes, dreams and friendship,” the piercebrubaker4homecoming instagram page commented in a post following the game, “Some didn’t see the beauty of what was happening right in front of their eyes, but we believe that most people saw what was so special about this movement. In our few short years at Carroll, we have never seen so many students create a community around something as simple as homecoming king and queen.”