The University of Missouri celebrated the nation’s first homecoming in 1911. One year earlier, the University of Illinois celebrated the nation’s first homecoming. Also, Baylor, in 1909, celebrated the nation’s first homecoming.
And those aren’t the only three.
Each school has its own story about some prominent figure calling the alumni back for a home football game, but Laura Bondy, Missouri’s coordinator of homecoming, stands by her school.
“The first homecoming was held at Mizzou in 1911,” Bondy said. “We are proud to have that in our history.”
According to the MU Alumni Association Web site, the tradition began in 1911 when football coach and athletic director Chester Brewer invited alumni home for the football game against Kansas. After that, MU’s Homecoming Web site claims “this tradition has spread throughout the world.”
Although Missouri’s 1911 Homecoming is recognized as the nation’s first by the NCAA, Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit, the claim does not stand uncontested.
The homecoming Web sites for Illinois and Baylor claim that their homecomings were the first, but admit it wasn’t necessarily a new idea.
The Illinois Homecoming Web site recognizes that the idea of an annual homecoming has been around for more than 100 years. Illinois Homecoming coordinator Dena Bagger said the 1910 homecoming in Urbana-Champaign, Ill., was different, because it focused on both the alumni and an intercollegiate football game.
“It might not be the first,” Bagger said. “But, it is the longest running tradition.”
Bagger discredited Baylor’s claim that its homecoming has as long of a tradition, because there was not another homecoming in Waco, Texas, until 1915. Illinois has held the event every year since 1910 and held its 96th game on Oct. 7. It was a 34-32 loss to Indiana.
Baylor Homecoming officials declined comment because they were busy preparing for Saturday’s homecoming game against Kansas. It is the 74th homecoming game in Baylor’s history, according to its athletic department.
The origins of the idea are a bit harder to pin down.
The University of Michigan’s is one of the earliest. The Wolverine Student Athletic Association sponsored alumni games in 1897, when current players competed against teams of former Wolverines, and many campus groups participated in the event. Alumni games differ from the modern homecoming, according to Illinois’ Web site, because they were “relatively informal” and the student body did not put much emphasis on the games.
Other potential firsts were at Northern Illinois and Indiana University.
Northern Illinois played its first homecoming game in 1906, but did not formally use the term “homecoming” until 1911 and didn’t play an intercollegiate football game until 1914, according to the Illinois Homecoming Web site. NIU is still billing Saturday’s football game against Temple as its 100th Homecoming Game.
According to the Indiana Alumni Association Web site, its first Homecoming was in 1908, but the event was centered around three building dedications, rather than a football game. In 1909, IU celebrated Gala Day, but according to the Illinois Homecoming Web site, this was an informal event not geared toward alumni, and that Indiana’s first homecoming was not until 1910.
The annual Yale-Harvard game has also been credited with the idea of alumni coming back, but neither school’s Web site acknowledges a homecoming game.
Baylor, Illinois and Missouri seem to have the most legitimate claims, but as of Oct. 19, Wikipedia gives credit to Missouri.