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Homecoming football games, dances, and other festivities make school spirit last long after graduation. Writer Elizabeth Trovall runs down the activities list.
Text : Elizabeth Trovall
Country: United States

mericans love nothing more than watching their football team play—and not just the highly paid professionals from the National Football League. The sport is beloved at all levels and college, and even some high school games bring in thousands of fans. At the professional level, the Super Bowl is the most important game of the year. Meanwhile, for college and high school teams, the annual homecoming match has a very special meaning for students, faculty, and alumni.

Homecoming is a cherished autumn tradition at universities and high schools across the United States when alumni head back to their college or high school town to hear the marching band play the fight song, reconnect with old friends, and see their football team crush the opposition. A few universities claim to have hosted the first homecoming game, but the University of Missouri was certainly the first college to center homecoming around both a parade and a football game. Since alumni were encouraged to “come home” for that first homecoming match in 1911, universities and high schools all over the United States have developed their own homecoming traditions.

Like many of the most important athletic competitions of the year, the first homecoming game in the U.S. was between two archrivals, the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas. The universities’ rivalry, referred to as the “Border War,” began in 1891 and is the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi River. However, the rivalry between the two states and the real “Border War” (also referred to as “Bleeding Kansas”) began much earlier, before the Civil War. In those days guerrilla violence between Missouri and Kansas divided the neighboring states over whether Kansas would become part of the United States as a slave state or a free one.

Despite its serious roots, the Border Wars football rivalry is now enjoyed by all. In 1911 it was the perfect reason for the University of Missouri’s Athletics Director, Chester L. Brewer, to invite alumni to “come home” to Columbia, Missouri, to watch the Missouri Tigers fight it out against the Kansas Jayhawks. A spirit rally and parade were important elements of this initial homecoming tradition, which continues on today. Since the day 9,000 Missouri fans cheered on their team at Rollins Field in 1911, the homecoming tradition has evolved into one of the most cherished university traditions and a wonderful chance to visit one’s alma mater.

University of Missouri’s homecoming now includes many events. Each year, thousands of students and alumni dress in the school colors, black and gold, and watch beautiful themed floats parade through downtown Columbia, where the university’s main campus is located. Campus organizations perform entertaining songs and skits at a talent show. To bring a philanthropic element to the tradition, there’s also a blood drive during the week of homecoming. Other homecoming events include a pizza party, Greek life campus decorations and skits, a ball, a potluck, a breakfast, several tailgates, and much more. University of Missouri’s celebration has become so large that it has been honored as the best homecoming in the country.

Though the football game, spirit rally and parade are standard parts of homecoming across the country, many schools have unique traditions that set their celebrations apart from the rest. For example, at South Dakota State University students dress up as homeless people during their homecoming spirit week on what they call “Hobo Day.” At Arizona State University, glowing lanterns help light the path as students, professors and alumni climb up A Mountain. Famous musicians and comedians, including Dave Chappelle, Jay Leno, and Dane Cook, have taken part in the Gator Growl, a homecoming pep rally at University of Florida’s Flavet Field.

Homecoming traditions are also very important to high schools around the country, though on a slightly smaller scale. In addition to the homecoming game, students attend a homecoming dance (also sometimes called court-warming) that is much like prom. At the homecoming dance, usually held in the high school gym, a DJ plays music and students usually dress up in semi-formal attire.

During the homecoming festivities, two students are selected as homecoming king and queen based on their contributions to the school. The winners are announced at the game during halftime. Colleges and universities select homecoming “royalty” as well.

In the southern United States, especially in Texas, senior boys give a “mum” (short for chrysanthemum) to their dates for the homecoming dance. The girls wear the flower on the day of the homecoming game. Originally, boys gave real chrysanthemums, but today, many are artificial. In addition to the flower, mums include long ribbons in school colors and other beads and trinkets like cowbells and LED lights.

In middle schools and high schools, students celebrate spirit week before the homecoming game. Every day students dress up in wacky outfits and costumes. Themes for spirit week dress up days include 80s day, crazy sock day, nerd day, pirate day, pajama day… the list is endless. However, the Friday before the game, everyone must wear the school colors as elaborately as possible. Many groups of friends get together the week of the football game and decorate special shirts with the school colors.

Although traditions vary at individual schools, the most important part of homecoming remains the same: it is an opportunity for people to come together, support their school, and have some fun!


Football and fun, bring students home again

Americans love football and meeting with old friends to revisit their past. Every autumn, high schools and universities across the country hold homecoming events to welcome their students and alumni back. It is not clear how the tradition started, but the University of Missouri was the first to center homecoming around both a parade and a football game.

There are many different homecoming traditions, but most of them include a spirit rally, parades, the school's marching band playing the team's fight song, and a football game against their rival school. But each school also has its own traditions.

At the University of Missouri there is a themed float parade, a talent show and a blood drive. Students dress up as homeless people for "Hobo Day" at South Dakota State University. At Arizona State University glowing lanterns light the path for students and alumni as they climb A Mountain. Famous musicians and comedians sometimes take part in the Gator Growl, a homecoming pep rally at University of Florida's Flavet Field.

Homecoming traditions are also very important in high schools, but at a smaller scale. In addition to the homecoming game students also attend a homecoming dance, which is held in the school gym. And in the southern United States, senior boys give their dates a chrysanthemum to wear.

However, the most important part of the celebration is the same throughout all the schools: it's a time for people to come together, support their school, and have some fun!



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Football and fun, bring students home again



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