Homecoming history is rooted in alumni

Ah, homecoming: That early autumn time of year when the leaves are changing, football teams are stretching and alumni are popping up around campus wearing sweatshirts with their alma mater prominently displayed.

Many colleges and universities (Saint Louis University excluded) allege to have held the first homecoming; three in particular seem to have the strongest argument.

“It certainly is a very special tradition here at Mizzou,” said Todd McCubbin, Executive Director of the Mizzou Alumni Association. “We get credit for it with a lot of major organizations . It could be the fact that we had our story the straightest for the longest amount of time.

“It doesn’t matter who’s the first, in a way,” McCubbin said, “but it’s something that we get questioned about time to time, and we’re proud of that history here at Mizzou.”

University of Missouri-Columbia’s homecoming, largely student-run, was first held in 1911 when Athletic Director Chester Brewer called and invited alumni to the football game against Kansas. Theirs is recognized by the NCAA, Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit as the inaugural collegiate homecoming, but Baylor University and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign see it differently.

In 1909, Baylor alumni were invited via postcard back to the university to “renew former associations and friendships and catch the Baylor spirit again.”

That Thanksgiving weekend, during “Good Will Week,” there were concerts, class reunions, a parade and the final football game of the season-which they won. The problem with Baylor’s claim is that their next homecoming was not held again until 1915, and even then it occurred off and on until 1934 when it was officially christened ‘homecoming.’

Two U of I alumni formulated their 1910 homecoming as a way to give back to their alma mater.

It was an effort to unite alumni with current students, as previous alumni reunions occurred during graduation week when students were either busy with commencement activities or no longer at school.

The celebration included several events, but the centerpiece was the football game against the University of Chicago.

Homecoming became an annual event at Illinois, with the exception of 1918, apparently because of that year’s flu epidemic.

The University of Michigan is another school to have held annual alumni games (since 1897, though not labeled ‘homecoming’ until 1916), but do visiting alumni a homecoming make?

These alumni are a large part of it for SLU, at least, as the major draw for former and current students alike is the Saturday-night soccer game.

“We don’t have football, so soccer is in place of a football game,” said University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J.

SLU’s homecoming as it is known today was birthed out of a desire to bring alumni back to campus each year instead of simply during their scheduled reunions.

“Alumni-wise, we used to have a reunion weekend, at one point called Founders’ Week,” said Meg Connolly, director of alumni relations. “That’s when we celebrated alumni reunions.”

Connolly said that it was not until 2002 that homecoming became a melding of student interests and alumni attractions.

“This is a way to tie the two together,” she said.

The student homecoming has been going on for longer, yet it typically centered around a basketball game. SLU’s homecoming weekend now includes activities for the entire family.

The Department of Student Life and the Office of Alumni Relations now work together on the weekend’s schedule. Alumni are tempted to campus with reunion activities, the Black Alumni Association Reception, discounted tickets to the University Theatre’s production of Language of Angels, the Entrepreneurial Alumni Hall of Fame and free admission with a homecoming nametag to the men’s soccer game against Central Florida.

Students will enjoy Friday’s free concert with alternative rock band Guster, and younger siblings can play in the quad’s Family Fun Area on Saturday, from 1 to 5 p.m.

“My schedule is filled with receptions, a couple of talks, the fireworks,” said Biondi. “I love going to all of [the activities].”