Seren Snow, staff writer
No one called it homecoming at the time, but when University of Missouri (Mizzou) invited alumni back for the biggest game of the year, the former students must have felt like they were coming home.
It was 1911, the first year that the game would be played on campus instead of in nearby Kansas City. The matchup was Mizzou vs. University of Kansas.
The rivalry between the two institutions is one of the most intense and violent of any rivalry in sports history. It is also one of the longest running, rooted in pre-Civil War fighting between abolitionists and pro-slavery groups along the Kansas-Missouri border.
Some dispute whether this was indeed the very first homecoming. But what's certain is that it wasn't the last. Since then, homecoming traditions have involved much more than a football game.
I've curated a list of them based on a search of college alumni pages and student rankings of homecoming traditions. Here are five of my favorites:
1: University of Missouri
After learning about the dramatic history of homecoming at Mizzou, you had to know I would give them the No. 1 spot.
In addition to their homecoming football game, the institution hosts an annual homecoming blood drive through a partnership with the American Red Cross. It has become one of the largest blood drives in the world. Last year, they collected 4,374 units of blood, amounting to 13,122 lives saved—and that doesn't even include blood gathered from the off-campus satellite collection locations Mizzou sets up around the state.
I should note that Mizzou isn't the only institution that hosts an annual blood drive. Appalachian State University in North Carolina also has an annual homecoming blood drive, which collected 1,235 pints of blood in 2016.
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2: University of Central Florida
If you're going to celebrate homecoming in Florida, you might as well take advantage of the warm weather. Students at the University of Central Florida participate in a Spirit Splash, in which more than 15,000 students meet in the campus reflecting pond for a party and pep rally joined by administrators, the football coach, marching band, and more. The tradition was named Best Campus Tradition by the National Association for Campus Activities in 2011, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016.
3: Dartmouth College
In a tradition that dates back to 1888, freshmen build a gigantic bonfire on the Green, a large field in the heart of campus. On the night of homecoming, first-year students run laps around the fire—with the number of laps being equal to the last two digits of their class year (the class of 2020 would run 20 laps). Students treat this ritual as the final rite of passage for freshmen entering the Dartmouth community.
4: Brigham Young University
In the true spirit of teamwork, students at Brigham Young have climbed a picturesque 380-foot mountain every year since 1924 to light a huge letter Y that overlooks campus. Students light the Y to mark major campus events, including orientation, homecoming, Y Days, and graduation ceremonies.
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Students have used a variety of methods to light the Y—from fires inside oil pots to electric lightbulbs. For homecoming 2017, Brigham Young officials have installed permanent lighting on the Y and reconstructed the trail that leads to it. They have also added a new way for students to participate in the tradition without hiking the trail: a party on campus to celebrate the lighting of the Y. The party includes performances by student groups and a livestream of students on the mountain.
5: Howard University
Homecoming week at Howard is one of the most treasured traditions among HBCUs. During the week-long calendar of events, Yardfest is arguably the most anticipated, drawing thousands of students and alumni. It features live musical performances—and many of the performers have been up-and-coming artists who have gone on to become music legends, including Notorious B.I.G, Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake.
Howard officials have scaled back on Yardfest in recent years to reduce crowd size, improve safety, and focus on welcoming alumni home. Nevertheless, 2017's Yardfest still boasted a star-studded guest list, which included Rotimi, Laz Alonso, Rick Ross, Tory Lanez, and more.
(University of Missouri site, accessed 9/19 ; University of Missouri site, accessed 9/19 ; Hendrix, Central Florida Future, 10/21/15; University of Central Florida site, accessed 9/19; Gill, Dartmouth Review, 10/31/2015; Taylor, Daily Universe, 10/11/2016; Kenner, Daily Herald, 10/12/15; Williams, Hello Beautiful, accessed 9/15; Holston, The Hilltop, 10/1/2016; Birch, Dartmouth Folklore Archive, 11/19/2016; Gayle, WJLA, 10/20; Vesoulis, NBC4, 10/20).
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