Alumni Events at other Universities

University of Michigan

Beginning in 1897, the University of Michigan Student Athletic Association sponsored Alumni Games pitting the UM football varsity squad against a team made up of former Michigan players.  As early as 1898, the UM band, glee and banjo clubs, fraternities, and other university groups were all participating in the event.  According to Charles Baird, an early UM graduate director of athletics, the Alumni Game had been organized for three reasons: to gain alumni support for the university’s athletic teams; to allow the current football players to benefit from the experience and knowledge of their predecessors; and to bring the alumni together “so that they may renew old acquaintances and promote good fellowship, college spirit and interest in their alma mater.”  In 1900, the format of the Alumni Games changed, with the opposing team now hailing from a rival university.[1]   That year the opponent was Purdue.

The Alumni Games differed from the modern homecoming in several ways.  For one thing, they were relatively informal affairs.  According to Greg Kinney, Sports Archivist at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library, these alumni events were “not centrally organized and had a rather ad hoc nature at least until the 1930s.”  In fact, Kinney was not able to find in his sources “anything declaring a particular game to be the continuation of the Alumni game tradition” after 1900.  The Alumni Games also don’t seem to have captured the imagination of the student body.  The Michigan student newspaper generally did not make a “big deal” of these affairs.[2]   This was not entirely surprising since large numbers of alumni returned for every Michigan home game. 
Finally, these events were not formally called “homecoming” until rather late in the day.  The first known informal reference to the Alumni Game as a “homecoming” occurred in the 1916 Michiganensian in an article describing the Cornell game of 1915.  After 1916, the term “homecoming” seems to disappear, Kinney wrote.   The Sports Archivist sampled the Michigan yearbooks and student newspapers up to 1930 and found no evidence of the term being used during this period.  The Michigan football media guide does not specifically refer to a game as homecoming until 1948, Kinney related, and the 1947 football program is the first one to feature “Homecoming” on its cover.[3]

Indiana University


On November 20, 1909, Indiana University held a Gala Day to mark the annual football game with Purdue.  A relatively informal affair, Gala Day does not seem to have been geared specifically to the alumni.  Indeed, Kit Klingelhoffer, a onetime Indiana University sports information director, offered the opinion (in 1986) that Indiana’s first homecoming was in 1910, not 1909—despite a claim in the IU press guide equating Gala Day with Homecoming.[4]

The following year (1910), on October 20th, the Indiana Union—a student group—set into motion plans for an alumni homecoming, to be held on November 5th, the day of the Illinois game.  The “homecoming feature” coupled to the big game of the year was apparently a winning combination for the IU alumni.  Before long, the IU student newspaper—the Daily Student--could report that the “Home-coming movement is now on in Indiana University.” [5]

A movement usually has a leader, and the editors of the Daily Illini were not shy in claiming this distinction for their university.  The DI went so far as to accuse Indiana University of copying the homecoming idea:
As the Daily Illini predicted before the Fall Home Coming, other institutions have adopted that plan of drawing home the alumni, Indiana probably being the first one. . . . Perhaps, though, after the game November 5th, Indiana will have had its fill of Illinois customs and habits, particularly the old one of defeating the Hoosiers in football.

The Daily Student did not answer the DI’s charge directly, merely remarking that “Illinois people like that kind of talk same as we like to stroke our own backs over here.” [6] The Indiana University homecoming took place on schedule on November 5, 1910.  The Illini defeated the Hoosiers by a score of 3-0, with Otto Seiler’s foot again carrying the day.

Baylor University


On November 24-25, 1909, Baylor University held an alumni event specifically called a “Home-Coming.”  According to the Baylor University Bulletin, the “purpose of the Home-Coming was to give an opportunity for the joyful meeting of former student friends, an occasion when old classmates could again feel the warm hand-clasp of their fellows, recall old memories and associations, and catch the Baylor spirit again.”  The event—the result of an appeal by Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks--had been planned six months in advance.  The Home-Coming featured a concert, a pep rally, a parade, a bonfire, and a football game.  In this Thanksgiving-day game, Baylor defeated Texas Christian University by a score of 6-3 [7].   The next Baylor Home-coming apparently was not held until 1915.

Northern Illinois University


On October 12, 1906, Northern Illinois State Normal School held its first annual alumni banquet.  The following day, Northern Illinois’s football team played an alumni squad in a match that resulted in a 0-0 tie.  Subsequently, a provision in the 1907 constitution of the school’s Alumni Association stated that “There shall be a social meeting of the alumni and guests, annually following the annual football game, on the evening of the second Saturday of October.”  Significantly, in these annual football games, Northern Illinois did not play an intercollegiate opponent until 1914—a contest against Wheaton College.  According to Glen Gildemeister, University Archivist at NIU, “homecoming” was not used as a proper noun formally by the school until 1911.  Nonetheless, Gildemeister maintains that NIU’s formal Homecoming began on October 12-13, 1906, and was formalized in the 1907 Alumni Association constitution.  “If Homecoming is the gathering of alums with organized social events built around an annual football game, we date to 1906,” the NIU archivist wrote.[8]

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Endnotes:

[1] Michigan Alumnus, October 1898, 20, Reference Files, University of Illinois Archives; ibid, November 1900, 70, ibid.

[2] Greg Kinney to William Maher, April 4, 2005, e-mail communication, April 4, 2005, original is held in the University of Illinois Archives College and Universities Correspondence Files.

[3] Michiganensian 20 (1916), 297; Kinney to Maher.

[4] The Daily Student, November 19, 1909, p. 1, cols. 2-3; ibid, November 20, 1909, p. 1, col. 2; ibid, November 22, 1909, p. 1, col. 1; Dick Kishpaugh to Tab Bennett, September 30, 1986, Homecoming Reference File, University of Illinois Archives.  Brad Cook, an archivist at Indiana University, believes that Gala Day was IU’s first homecoming.

[5] The Daily Student, October 21, 1910, p. 1, col. 2; ibid, October 25, 1910, p. 1, col. 1.  Thanks to Ellen Swain for these articles.

[6] Daily Illini, October 26, 1910, p. 4, col. 1; The Daily Student, October 28, 1910, p. 2, col. 1.

[7] Baylor University Bulletin 13:1 (January 1910), 1; Baylor Homecoming 2000--History website, http://www3.baylor.edu/Homecoming/history.html.

[8] Glen Gildemeister, “Homecoming,” Quick Reference File #63, Northern Illinois University Archives; Northern Star, October 22, 2002.