Through the Trifocals

The University of Illinois is credited by many as being the creator of Homecoming. Whether true or not, it can be a special time for those who have attended Illinois. Illinisports discusses the meaning of Homecoming, from 1910 to the present.

This Saturday is Homecoming. This is a special time for many University of Illinois alumni, and the tradition extends back to 1910. We are one of the first, if not the first, universities to have Homecoming. We claim we are the first, but one or more other schools also held similar events that same fall. I am not certain which one occurred on the earliest date, but it appears none of them occurred earlier than the fall of 1910.

The following is the complete list of events scheduled for Illinois' First Homecoming, taken verbatim from the actual program:

Program, First Annual Home-coming
Friday, October 14, 1910
2:00 P. M. Base Ball Game. Alumni All Stars vs. Illinois 1000 percent. team.
3:45 P. M. Push Ball Contest. Sophomores vs. Freshmen.
Hobo Band All Afternoon.
6:30 P. M. Band Reunion. Illinois Field.
6:45 P. M. Mass Meeting. Illinois Field.
8:00 P. M. Reunions, Initiations, and Banquets.

Saturday, October 15, 1910
8:00 A. M. Inspection of Buildings.
9:00 A. M. Annual Interclass Meet. Illinois Field.
2:30 P. M. Foot Ball Game. Illinois vs. Chicago. Hang It On Chicago

Over the years, a number of additional events have been scheduled around Homecoming, all of which have helped to lure alumni back to what was their temporary homes during their schooling. It is and always has been much more than just a football game, and this is especially important to remember when our football team is not dominant.

It is likely that materialistic interests were part of the motivation for creating Homecoming. Just like flower shops, candy stores and greeting card companies on Valentine's Day, numerous businesses benefit from the migration of extra consumers to campus. The University itself has the opportunity to impress the alums and thus increase the possibility of their financial support. But the first Homecoming was also motivated by the desire to keep the past, present and future connected in a way that makes the University larger and stronger throughout time.

Alumni have the opportunity to attend reunions of their classes, fraternities, sororities, colleges, and extracurricular activities during Homecoming weekend. They can meet old friends, some of whom they haven't seen in years. And they can tour the campus to see what has changed and what has remained the same.

Students have numerous activities planned to help them celebrate the event, in part to keep the concept fresh in their minds so they will wish to return once they have graduated. Over the years, formal dances have been extremely popular. The Friday Homecoming parade, which was once led by Chief Illiniwek riding a white horse, followed by a pep rally, allows students to experience much more than just classes, exams and parties. And for many past years, the Homecoming football game itself was an event surrounded by much excitement and optimism.

When I was in school, fraternities and sororities paired up to compete for a special event called Stunt Show plus a Homecoming championship trophy. During the previous winter, after much clandestined talk back and forth between houses to extoll their virtues with their preferred partners, one fraternity and sorority would suddenly break the silence and announce they had paired up for the following Homecoming. Like falling dominoes, all other houses wishing to compete began to pair up.

What made this exciting was the fact that any one sorority might be desirable to more than one fraternity, and they could "play the field" until their preferred partner finally committed to them. Once the top sororities were taken, the remaining fraternities were left to scramble for their second or third choices, and sororities had the same frustrations, not knowing whether to accept the first offer and run the risk of losing out on the one they preferred. The actual pairing event was always followed by much revelry, no matter how late the hour.

Each pairing would then get together and write a 10-minute Stunt Show song-and-dance skit they would later perform for judges. The eight best pairings would be selected to perform Saturday night of Homecoming at the Assembly Hall to a large audience. These skits were highly complex and original, and they usually involved 20 or more men and women who spent many long hours preparing their material and background sets. The winner would earn the most points to help determine the overall champion of Homecoming (sadly, Stunt Show was cancelled around 1970).

The fraternity-sorority pairings had several other ways of earning points. One, they could prepare floats for the Homecoming parade that were judged for quality and complexity. Two, they could create either two-dimensional or three-dimensional house decorations which were also judged and given points. Three-dimensional house decs were much more complicated and time-consuming, so they were given more points than two-dimensional decs. Third, they could sell Homecoming buttons.

The fraternity and sorority with the most points after all these events was given a large trophy. Of course, by the time these events were all completed, many members of participating houses had gotten severely behind in their studies, and more than one flunked out because of all the work involved. But it made Homecoming stand out in their minds as the most important event of their college lives. It is likely that many participants in these events have returned to campus frequently to relive old memories.

Different eras have different memorable events attached with their Homecoming weekends, but we all retain the memories that were special for us. And more than anything else, it is the memories that bring us back. For those of you who have not returned to campus, whether for Homecoming or just to visit, I recommend it highly. In fact, I suggest it especially when things are not going well and you need a confidence boost.

Whether you realize it or not, and regardless of how well or poorly you fared in school, the University of Illinois was your home for some important years of your life. College is the first time we are out on your own as adults, and it is the last time many of us are allowed to compete within a system where quality is rewarded, rules are clear and deceit is punished. There is a ton of pressure associated with competing for grades and graduating, but we know how the game is played. We know exactly what we must do to succeed, and we know that it will be over at a precise time. Thus, there is a certain security in the process that is comforting despite the pressure.

In addition, for every class we pass, we have succeeded at something that not everyone can do. Even if we cannot brag about our GPA or class rank, we can reinforce our belief in ourselves for every success we have. After all, we responded to the pressure and learned we can trust ourselves in similar situations throughout life.

Everywhere we go on campus, everything we touch or witness becomes part of our memory, and we leave little bits and pieces of ourselves all over the place. When we return to campus, no matter how many years have elapsed, our minds receive brief flashbacks of memorable events, feelings and experiences from our school days. If we retrace our steps and walk into buildings that hold memories for us, it is like we are reliving our history. Just walking around the Quad might rekindle thoughts of special friends or unique experiences. For most of us, these memories will be positive, and we can feel uplifted by them. It is hard to go home in a bad mood unless you only remember bad times and block out all the little positive things that happened to you.

Homecoming is a reminder that we still have a home, that we are not alone. The University is open for us to return at any time and not just at Homecoming. But if we need the reminder, in the same way we need Valentine's Day to make us remember our loved ones, then please consider Homecoming as your special opportunity.

We will have good football teams and bad football teams, so associating Homecoming only with the football game that weekend does it a disservice. Certainly, watching the Illini defeat a quality Big 10 foe is rewarding in itself, but Homecoming is so much more than that. Please don't let presumptions of a poor game prevent you from returning home for a visit. The University is only as good as the people who become part of it. The University of Illinois needs us, and we need it. We are partners in life, for better or worse.

I would like to conclude with the words of a song inspired by and written for the University of Illinois' first Homecoming in 1910, also taken from the program of that weekend:

Dedicated to the First Annual Fall Home-Coming Words by S. S. Colvin Melody by F. K. W. Drury Harmonized by Otto Schreiber


A thousand flags are waving for the heroes of the field;
A thousand voices shouting for the men that never yield.
The autumn sun is setting, in glory, in the west;
'Tis flinging forth its banners in the colors we love best.
See how its rays upshooting join with the sky's pure hue,
To signal forth the victr'y of The Orange and the Blue.


Oh, The Orange and the Blue, to you we'll e'er be true;
While life remain, we'll pledge again, Dear Illinois, to you.


An old man sits and ponders as the evening shadows grow,
At close of day while in the west the heavens are all aglow.
Once more those flags are waving, once more the cheer is raised,
As the old man lives in fancy o'er his dear old college days.
For he has seen at set of sun what in his youth he knew,
Oh, Alma Mater, Illinois, Thy Orange and Thy Blue,


Oh, The Orange and the Blue, to you we'll e'er be true;
While life remain, we'll pledge again,
Dear Illinois, to you.


Hail to Thee, Alma Mater, wherever we may be,
Within the pleasant homeland or beyond the storm-swept sea.
From care and toil we pause to rest when the day's long work is done,
To gaze upon the blazon at the setting of the sun.
And all of thy sons and daughters their love for thee renew
Beholding in the evening sky, The Orange and the Blue.

This song may not have caught on and become a perennial favorite, but the sentiment was the same then as it is now. And the people who wrote it and sang it were Illini who had the same aspirations and beliefs as we do now. We are all Orange and Blue, for better or worse.

Welcome all alumni, on Homecoming and always.

Go Illini!!!

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