Once every year, giant plywood boards covered in paint and tiny pieces of colored tissue paper tower in front of Greektown houses and the sounds of brass instruments and drums ring in the air. Thousands of figures dressed in black and gold cover the sidewalks to catch a glimpse of what is happening. It’s Homecoming at MU.
MU’s Homecoming weekend is unlike any other weekend in Columbia. This year will be the hundredth time that both Tigers and non-Tigers gather to celebrate. For a century, since the first “Coming Home” in 1911, MU’s Homecoming traditions have brought Tigers fans together. That spirit, shown through the parade, football game, blood drive, campus decorations and student talent show, among other events, provides meaning particularly for those who attend MU.
That same sense of celebration also infiltrates the larger Columbia community, impacting residents as well as those who call themselves Tigers.
“It’s a time when we all get out our MU stuff and start some tailgates before the game,” said Christina Oyelola, a junior at Rock Bridge High School, who attends Homecoming festivities with her family every year and will ride in the parade this year as a Rock Bridge cheerleader. “Mizzou wanted (Homecoming) to be for Columbia and for Missouri, not just the school itself,” she said.
Tailgating before the game amid cheers, charcoal grills and cars stocked with snacks is what helps those not affiliated with the University to become part of the MU tradition.
Molly Roland, the granddaughter of Chester Brewer, MU’s Homecoming founder, views the annual event with nostalgia when she recalls the stories her mother told her. She also has fond memories of tailgating, roasting marshmallows after the game and renting a U-Haul moving van just to haul all their game-day gear.
“I feel like I’m an adopted Tiger,” Roland said. “We’ve had the tallest flag in Lot J since 1991.”
Family and friends pitch in to make the tradition flourish. “There are certain people who are there at 8 a.m., who go and set up grills and tents and chairs,” Roland said of her tailgating crew. “I always bring a triple batch of brownies. Chocolate and beer doesn’t sound good to me, but they’re happy with it.”
Roland said the “father” of her tailgate is John Allen. Allen, a Columbia native and former Louisiana resident, graduated in 1977 from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. He moved back to Columbia in 1979.
“The first football game I was ever brought to was in 1963 when I was eight years old,” Allen said. “Missouri’s locker room was in the south end of the east side stands, and you could hear the metal-tipped cleats clicking on the flagstone rocks when the team came out.”
“I remember growing up in Louisiana; we had a transistor radio, and we listened to Tiger football. It’s kind of a family thing, kind of a Missouri thing,” he said.
Some faculty who work for the University might not view Homecoming as something they are a part of; however, each year they witness the extensive goings-on during the week. Michael Barnes, associate professor of classical studies at MU, grew up in Houston and received his graduate degrees from MU. He enjoys getting a glimpse of the way the town transforms itself, but he still feels like an outsider.
“I always feel like an anthropologist who’s stumbled onto the rights of some other civilization,” said Barnes, whose only participation in Homecoming was riding in the parade last year as a Kemper Fellow.
Some locals prefer to view Homecoming through friends’ experiences rather than to directly participate. Diana and Elmer Revelle, both retired and in Southeast Missouri State University’s 1970 graduating class, have lived in Columbia for 11 years. Elmer has observed that much of this city revolves around MU, so he always checks the school’s football and social calendars to plan around the schedules for work meetings.
“We’re just not emotionally attached to the university, so those kinds of activities just aren’t a part of our connection,” Diana Revelle said. “But we have lots of friends who are. We keep up with it through their excitement.”
On Saturday, Columbia residents, some of whom are back to visit and others who have lived here since childhood, will squeeze their way into a spot at the side of the street for the centennial Homecoming parade. Hands will clap, bands will play, voices will ring. The same traditions that strengthen the bonds of MU Tigers bring the rest of the community together to celebrate.