Homecoming traditions change with times

By Anne Gleason

Students celebrated Homecoming at the University 94 years ago with a Hobo parade, various class sports competitions and a “mass-meeting” of fans. Today, the traditions have changed, but the purpose remains the same.

Homecoming was created as a way to promote pride and connect students with alumni. It continues to be a celebration for students and alumni, but Homecoming traditions have come and gone as different eras introduced different values.

However, there are a few old Homecoming staples that have been around since the beginning and these long-time traditions remain among the most popular.

The Friday night pep rally and the football game, which began with Homecoming in 1910, have always been a part of Homecoming.

“The pep rally is always a huge tradition,” said Andrew Sheridan, a junior in ACES and internal vice president for Homecoming. “It is definitely a big thing to alumni and the community. They’re there because it’s tradition.”

Throughout the years, Homecoming has been a mix of old and new traditions, like the pep rally and the kickoff.

During its first year, Homecoming events included a rally and the Hobo parade, which would become a 36-year-long tradition at the University. Students participating in the Hobo parade dressed up as various public figures, including politicians and celebrities. The parade tradition continued until 1946.

University archivist William Maher said there are various reasons why certain traditions lose their appeal. One of the biggest, he said, is that cultural interests change with time.

By the 1940s, Maher said changing media led to a decline in the “masquerading entertainment” displayed in the Hobo parade. Changing values also make certain events less acceptable.

“Homecoming is part of the entertainment world,” Maher said. “There was an awful lot of stuff (at the beginning) that we would regard as terribly offensive.”

Various political and social events played a large role in the disappearance of several previously popular traditions. Maher said the World War II era brought a serious atmosphere to the campus, which no longer accepted events like the Hobo parade.

According to the 1974 edition of the Illio, activism during the 1960s and a lack of funding brought an end to many long-standing Homecoming traditions.

During the early 1970s, the float parade and the Homecoming dance were abolished due to “lack of interest” and funding.

In 1972, the Illini Union Board decided not to sponsor the Homecoming Queen competition, saying it was no longer “relevant” to the times. However, the tradition, which began in 1936, did not end. The Interfraternity and Panhellenic Council decided to sponsor the Queen competition to keep it going.

In 1977, the University changed the title of Homecoming Queen to Homecoming Regent – participants could be male or female. Organizers felt the Homecoming Queen competition was too sexist.

However, the wave of changes during the 1960s and 1970s was reversed in 1979, when there was a big push to bring back the “traditional” Homecoming. The Student Alumni Association took over responsibility for the event, restored the parade and the dance which also created a Queen and King competition.

The association also began a “statewide effort to reach alums,” to get more people involved in the celebration.

A year later, the Illini Comeback Program, which recognizes distinguished alumni, began.

Even with the push to restore traditional Homecoming events, however, smaller traditions continued to come and go.

The Spirit of Homecoming event was replaced three years ago by the kickoff. Clark said residence halls, Greek houses and organizations used to create floats for the event, but eventually fewer and fewer students showed interest in the Spirit of Homecoming.

“People weren’t really getting involved anymore,” Clark said. “They ended up scrapping Spirit of Homecoming and thought about how we could connect the community to the students.”

With that, the kickoff was born.

The Homecoming Kickoff tradition is still very young compared to the 94-year-old pep rally. The kickoff, the opening celebration of Homecoming is one of the newest additions to the celebration.

“People who live in the community are some of the biggest supporters of the University,” said Meredith Clark, a senior in business and external vice president for Homecoming. “The kickoff was a way to appeal to other people.”

Maher said some traditions could be short-lived because students start the traditions while they are attending the University, and when those students graduate, the traditions fail to carry on.

This year, the Student Alumni Association changed the Homecoming Volunteer Project to involve students more directly. Clark said she hopes the new volunteer effort is one tradition that sticks beyond her years as a student.

In the past, Clark said the project involved canning on the Quad to raise money for different community organizations. This year, student organizations donated money to contribute to a Homecoming mural, which is hanging over the Union during Homecoming Weekend.

The money will then be donated to the Undergraduate Library to benefit students more directly.

“This year (the administration) said, ‘what about raising money and giving it to something to support the campus?'” Clark said. “We’re hoping that will set the precedent for future Homecomings.”

In addition to the parade, pep rally and game this weekend, this year’s Homecoming included many long-time events this week like the 5K run, Lunch on the Quad, the weekend IUB Variety Show and the African American Homecoming events.

Given the changes Homecoming has experienced over the past 94 years, however, future changes to the tradition are inevitable.

“Certain things stick and other things lose their public appeal,” Sheridan said.