No one is sure who started the homecoming tradition, but many people credit the University of Minnesota and their game against the Wisconsin Badgers in 1914 as the first homecoming game. They even had a dance afterwards. Since then, high schools and colleges across the country have adopted their own homecoming traditions.
Eastern Kentucky University’s first homecoming game happened on Nov. 12, 1927. The then Eastern Maroons played against the University of Louisville at home. The entertainment provided at the game was from The Exchange Club Boy’s Band, and all former students were invited to cheer the team on. Invitations were personally sent out to alumni across the state. Afterwards, President Thomas Coates gave a toast at an alumni banquet and dance. For current students, a large pep rally was held before the game, fostering an incredible amount of school spirit.
“The fine thing about the backing Saturday afternoon was the fact that it didn’t falter when the Maroon team was behind. In fact it didn’t falter as long as the game lasted, even when it became apparent that the home boys would lose,” the Eastern Progress wrote after the game.
Throughout the 1930s, a bonfire and unofficial dance held in the Little Gym were added features to the EKU homecoming tradition. The dance was usually handled by various campus committees or sponsored by an organization on campus. In 1935, the dance, which was “well attended” by alumni, was sponsored by the Sigma Tau Pi commerce club. Music for the dances was often provided by the campus orchestra.
For much of the 1940s, homecoming was canceled due to World War II. The first post-war homecoming game was played in 1945. “A win for the maroons would make it a very successful season considering that all the squad, with exception of a few, are freshman civilians,” wrote the Eastern Progress.
The 1950s brought about a larger interest in the celebrations: a homecoming barbecue which was “fast becoming a traditional ‘must’”. Each year’s gala and parade promised to be larger than the last, and in 1953, homecoming grew to a two day event. The 1953 homecoming kicked off with a pep rally on the first night, the parade and crowning of homecoming queen on the second night before the game and a dance held on both nights. The 1950s also began a much greater interest in the campaign and crowning of homecoming queens. Each club and organization, from the Off Campus Club, to the Modern Dance Club, even the Chess Club had a nominee for the Homecoming Queen crown. The winner of Homecoming Queen and her attendants were crowned by the university president before the football game on the field. Pat Clevenger from Winchester, and her attendants Susan Phelps of Somerset and Betty Hurst of Stanton, were crowned in 1957 by EKU President William O’Donnell.
The 1960s entered a period in Eastern where the organizing of homecoming became more difficult, possibly due to the rising population on campus. The 1961 homecoming parade saw only 19 of the 40 campus organizations build floats for the parade, and in 1963 a set of regulations were created to better organize the parade. The 60s also saw the development of themes for each year’s homecoming, from “Around the World” in ’62 to “American Heritage” in ’64. However, many students wanted live music included in the homecoming experience, as was petitioned by Progress members in 1963.
These trends continued into the ’70s, with student activities in 1978 including several concerts, the homecoming parade and a disco (the latest craze) dance in the Keen Johnson building.
Homecoming in the ’80s continued on similarly, with some very creative themes. The 1980s also brought a lack of interest in the annual homecoming dance, which was replaced by a free concert in 1983 for that reason. Reporting on homecoming in the Eastern Progress looked a bit different than it had in the past. In a trend that would continue into the ’90s, homecoming reporting was collected into a comprehensive section with accompanying art in the style of the theme for that year.
During the ’90s and ’00s, homecoming began to look much like it does today, with activities like the 5k and tailgating attracting more attention. Particularly in the ’90s, it seemed that more organizations began to hold their own individual festivities and reunions in addition to the larger university events. The first Colonel Corn Roast was hosted in 2000.
Homecoming at EKU has been around for 94 years this year. While the traditions have changed, the school spirit has been a constant throughout.