Every fall, without fail, there is Homecoming to look forward to. Homecoming that is not just a return to one’s place of origin – though this is a given – but Homecoming that’s characterized by a week-long schedule of events, festivities and traditions that magically transforms homecoming to Homecoming, capital “H”.
Homecoming has permanent real estate on most school calendars and is a party generally thrown by current students and administration, targeting and enticing former students to return to their alma maters. It’s a much-celebrated tradition that dates back to the early 1900s with origins centered around, none other than, football.
Homecoming History and Traditions
Several major universities claim to be the one school to inaugurate today’s concept of capital “H” Homecoming. But to remain fair, let’s call it a group effort. Baylor University in Texas documented the first alumni football game in 1909. The University of Illinois dates their first celebration to 1910. And in 1911, Chester Brewer, athletic director at the University of Missouri, publicly invited all alumni to attend the raucous rival game, Missouri vs. University of Kansas. Brewer also purportedly had a spirit rally and parade, which is perhaps where the pomp got added to the circumstance.
Back even further, the University of Michigan held an actual alumni football game in 1875 where former players returned to face-off against current players. Go same team!
Popular traditions include themed dress-up days, decorated residence halls, a nominated Homecoming court followed by a halftime crowned king and queen. A parade down some main street features the marching band, cheer squads, class floats, mascots and hand-painted poster boards and tapestries advertising “beat rival.” But perhaps the most beloved is the cornerstone football game, followed by a romantic dance to seal the week with a kiss.
High schools and colleges have unique, sometimes curious, customs. An article on vice.com regarding Homecoming traditions specifically, states: “Tradition is only as absurd as your distance from it.”
For example, the University of Arizona engages in an annual lantern walk. Students and alumni tote lanterns up to “A” mountain used by the school’s mascot to illuminate the “A.” During spirit splash at the University of Central Florida, students run into the university’s reflecting pool in a grand show of school pride. South Dakota State University hosts a 100-year-old “hobo day” that started when students and alumni marched toward the town’s train station dressed as hobos to welcome the opposing team. Still going strong today, they now have a Bum-A-Meal program, a month-long no shaving pledge, a BumFire, and a creative build-your-own shanty event.
And in Texas, where all things are larger than life, watch out for the ostentatious Homecoming mums. They are worth a Google image search.
Homecoming in the New River Valley
Here, at our own hometown university, select members of Virginia Tech’s Army ROTC run the Homecoming game ball 100 miles around campus letting spectators and town folk touch the ball for good luck. On game day, they take the now-lucky pigskin a few final steps into the stadium for kick-off.
Despite having no football game on which to anchor events, Radford University does not let that stop them from throwing the annual sentimental soirée. The entire fall Homecoming weekend is centered around an alumni village that hosts a live band and an “Under the Kilt” beverage tent. Both the women’s and men’s soccer teams have games, the rugby team hosts an alumni game, and there is an athletics hall of fame induction ceremony. Every year the Golden Reunion welcomes those celebrating their 50th graduation anniversary.
Director of Alumni Relations Sandra Bond offers: “Homecoming is a family reunion of alumni coming back, to see friends, to see the campus, to reconnect and reminisce. It’s a time to reflect about your time at Radford and feel proud of your alma mater.”
Barry Hollandsworth has the benefit of being both alumni of and current principal at Floyd County High School [FCHS]. “My favorite part when I was a student was the week-long spirit activities, including dress up days the students vote on. Spirit week is the oldest longstanding tradition.”
One of FCHS’s most cherished traditions is the current Homecoming king and queen are always crowned by the previous year’s recipients. Still, and perhaps a bit unfortunately, Hollandsworth’s administrative perspective allows him to see the bigger picture and the difficulties associated with keeping old things alive. “Like so many traditional things, they are fading away. It is just the fact that students have so many options for entertainment.”
Yet, no matter how weird the rituals, or how many distractions, it’s still a wonderful excuse to hold heritage steadfast. Home is the fulcrum from which to look back, and also propel forward. Homecoming, capital “H,” celebrates nostalgia, it celebrates academic culture, and it celebrates friendships that become family. And bonus points if you gain a little knowledge alongside the party, even if it’s how to decorate the best-looking shack.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics
by Jon Fleming
Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer who calls Blacksburg home. Her fondest memory is going frenetically from marching in the parade to cheering at the game to dancing at the dance, all in the same night. Three different outfit requirements within hours. She wouldn’t want the memory any other way.