History Of The Homecoming Game
Fall is here! And for just about every leaf that falls, there's a tradition to match it. One of our favorites is the homecoming game. It's a weekend alumni return to their alma maters to celebrate fall and school spirit with a football game. Alumni go all out with tailgating and dressing in school colors, while students decorate parade floats with ornaments and throw spectacular parties. It dates back to the early 1900s, but which school started it and when is a matter of contention. Here's a little backstory of the homecoming game tradition.
The Origin Of The Idea
The tradition of homecoming has its origin in alumni football games held at colleges since the 19th century. One of the oldest American football rivalries, Harvard vs. Yale, dates to 1875. Students, alumni and fans from both schools gather annually for The Game, although it's never been called "homecoming". The University of Michigan traces its tradition to 1897 with an alumni game, during which the varsity football team faced a squad of former players.
And The Title Goes To...
When it comes to throwing the first homecoming, most experts give the nod to a University of Missouri football game in 1911. After 20 years of battling on neutral sites, new conference regulations forced longtime rivals the University of Kansas Jayhawks and the University of Missouri Tigers to play on a college campus for the first time. To make sure attendance was strong at the new location, the football coach and athletic director Chester Brewer invited alumni to "come home" for the game. Nearly 10,000 alumni heeded the call and watched their team battle to a 3-3 tie. In addition to the game, activities included a parade, rally and bonfire. Homecoming was a huge success and spawned similar celebrations at schools across the country.
Contenders To The Title
Several schools, including Baylor University and the University of Illinois, have made the claim that theirs was the first homecoming. These early celebrations shared certain elements, such as a football game as the focus, plus a parade, spirit rally and dance. In 1909, Baylor invited alumni to return to their alma mater to catch the Baylor spirit again. Originally titled "Good Will Week," the weekend included class reunions, speeches and concerts, as well as a formal dance, parade and the football game. In 1910, to bolster school spirit, two Illini seniors began planning an event centered on the University of Illinois/University of Chicago football rivalry. Students, faculty and local businesses joined in, and it became a bigger event than its originators imagined. Twelve thousand fans witnessed a 3-0 victory and homecoming became an annual event on the Illini campus (except during the influenza outbreak of 1918).
Spreading The Word
Homecoming quickly became popular on college campuses, and by the 1920s, it had taken root across the country. It wasn't long before high schools embraced the concept. Today's homecoming isn't much different. There is still a parade, rally and dance centered on a game, usually football, preferably against a weaker opponent for an easy win. Elements that have been added through the years include pre-game tailgate parties in the stadium parking lot and the ceremonial crowning of a king and queen at the homecoming dance.