Parading from past to future: Illinois celebrates time-honored tradition

By Sonal Singh, Contributing Writer

In October 1910, the University celebrated its very first Homecoming. Today, some of the festivities are the same, but many have evolved.

The Homecoming Parade has existed for decades and, with time, it has become an event the University is proud to host. If students and alumni aren’t participating on the parade floats, they are watching from the sidelines, decorated in orange and blue. Luckily, this is a tradition that hasn’t seen much change. To this day, the turnout to the Homecoming Parade is fantastic. It is a time-honored annual event which unites the whole school — students, faculty, alumni, staff and community members.

However, during the early 20th century, the spectators and participants in our so-called “Homecoming Parade” looked a whole lot different.

Senior students would dress up as “hobos,” clowns or other characters. They would grab instruments and head toward Illinois field, to the annual freshman-sophomore pushball game. The march down to the field was dubbed the Hobo Band Parade.While the actual origin of this type of parade is lost to history, the tradition had been long-established at the University.

Pushball is a game centered around a giant, 6-foot-wide, 50-pound ball. Two teams of 11 people each attempt to push the ball into 20-foot-wide goals. It was invented in 1891 and reached the field of Harvard University the following year. The game has since been retired by most schools across the country because of its rough nature.

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While the annual pushball game and other “class scraps” slowly started falling out of favor during the 1910s, the Hobo Band Parade continued to entertain as an annual Homecoming tradition for many years after students stopped pushing around that massive ball on Illinois Field.

The Hobo Band Parade was less formal than what we now know as the Homecoming Parade; it was considered silly but still caught the attention of a large crowd. Eventually, the Hobo Band Parade was let go from the Homecoming festivities, and it didn’t see a revival until around 1946. There is no concrete answer to explain the sudden shift in parade style, but it was likely a result of cultural change, as masquerade-type entertainment began disappearing from the mainstream.

The Hobo Band Parade has finally been retired from the University, but versions of it still thrive in other communities.

To make up for the loss of beautiful noise that would stem from the Hobo Band Parade, the Marching Illini has come to serve as a centerpiece for the Homecoming Parade. As the Marching Illini became increasingly successful and widely known for its sound and spectacular performances, the band became more involved in various Homecoming events and has become an integral part of the week-long experience for orange-and-blue-loving participants.

There is no doubt the parade is a big player in Homecoming Week festivities. The Marching Illini, combined with the Alumni Band and lots of RSOs, always come together to make it memorable, fun and inviting for the whole C-U community.

This year’s Illinois Homecoming Parade will take place on Friday, Oct. 12, at 6 p.m.

Sonal is a freshman in Engineering.

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