MOVE Investigates: A history of Homecomings

The Tail of Traditions might not have started with MU.

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It’s November 1911, and Missouri football coach Chester Brewer is prepared to take on the Kansas Jayhawks. The stadium is packed with a thunderous crowd of spirited students anxious for the big game against their longtime rival to begin. Joining the students are over 9,000 enthusiastic alumni who returned to their alma mater for the game, accepting Brewer’s invitation to come home.

Over a century later, Mizzou alumni still come back to Columbia every fall to a Homecoming complete with tailgates, decorated downtown businesses, an intense football game against an intercollegiate rival, a parade and more. Homecoming is one of Mizzou’s most treasured traditions, not to mention a concept that the university takes pride in inventing 105 years ago — but is it our idea to claim?

Baylor University in Waco, Texas, had “Good Will Week” in 1909, two years before Brewer’s Homecoming. The festivities involved a parade, concerts, speeches, a dance and, of course, a football game. Baylor invited alumni to “renew former associations and friendships” and “catch the Baylor spirit again,” according to the university’s website. Alumni also attended a series of class reunions upon returning to Baylor.

While Baylor has what seems like a good grasp on the Homecoming claim, the university didn’t hold another “Homecoming” until 1915, and it didn’t become an annual university tradition until 1934.

At the University of Illinois in 1910, a big game was coming up against the University of Chicago. Illinois hadn’t won a football game against Chicago in seven years. Two Illinois seniors, Clarence Williams and Elmer Ekblaw, wanted to break the streak. According to the university’s website, they came up with the plan to invite alumni back to help support the team.

So many alumni came to watch the game that Illinois had to get more seating for its stadium. Since this Homecoming for the university was such a major success, Illinois continued to host it every year except 1918 because of the influenza epidemic.

Other universities have tried to claim the first Homecoming as their own, depending on when their versions of the tradition originated on their own campuses. The University of Michigan traces the start of its Homecoming to the school’s “Alumni Games” in 1897, an event in which the current football players had competed against alumni, but it wasn’t officially called “Homecoming” until 50 years later. Northern Illinois’ first Homecoming dates back to 1903, but their athletes played alumni as opposed to a rival school as well.

At Indiana, Gala Week began in 1908 as “a time of general homecoming and reunions,” according to the student newspaper. The addition of a rivalry football game came in 1909, but Indiana didn’t throw in a homecoming parade until 1958.

Looking at other universities across the country, Mizzou didn’t chronologically hold the first Homecoming event. But the university has continued the tradition every year since 1911 for the longest consecutive time period, and the key components of Homecoming — a parade, a football game against a rival school and spirited rallies — have always been a part of the ritual.

So depending on which criteria are taken into account, Mizzou both did and did not hold the first Homecoming. But Mizzou still proudly claims the title, 105 years later.

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