Homecoming at Illinois: 102 Years and Counting
Oct. 24, 2012
Begun in 1910 and the longest-running tradition of its kind, the return of alumni to Alma Mater for a weekend of football, fun and memories has flourished over the decades, embodying the essence of the Illini spirit while remaking itself to suit the changing times.
HOMECOMING WEEKEND SPORTING EVENTS
Friday, Oct. 26
2012 HOMECOMING COMEBACK GUESTS
This year's Comeback Guests are:
A LOOK AT ILLINOIS' HOMECOMING HISTORY
Homecoming's original concept - designed by two University of Illinois students, Clarence Foss Williams, Class of 1910, and W. Elmer Ekblaw, Classes of 1910 and 1912 - was to offer an annual event geared specifically to alumni and centered around a football game. Its inaugural launch was an unqualified success, drawing more than 10,000 participants. UI enthusiasm for Homecoming has not dimmed since.
The very first Homecoming game was played at Illinois Field, drawing thousands of fans, including a "rooters' section" of undergraduates attired in orange and blue in a manner that formed a block "I." In its first Homecoming game, Illinois beat the University of Chicago, 3-0.
In 1913, the university hired Robert Zuppke, the legendary football coach who led Illinois through several decades of football glory until his retirement in 1941. Among his players was the famed Harold "Red" Grange, who thrilled the Homecoming crowd in 1924 by scoring four touchdowns within 12 minutes against a mighty Michigan team. That game also served as the Memorial Stadium dedication to the Illini who perished in World War I. Twenty years later, in 1944, the stadium would be dedicated again at Homecoming to the Gold Star Illini of World War II, honoring those who perished in that conflict.
The 1950s held many memorable Homecoming games, including the 1953 contest against Michigan in which J.C. Caroline smashed Red Grange's Big Ten rushing record. In 1951, another noteworthy event occurred. In the biggest vote thus far in campus history, UI senior Clarice Davis became the campus's first African-American Homecoming queen. Indeed, she may have been the first such queen at a major American university.
Homecoming traditions faded somewhat in the mid-1960s and '70s but flourished again in the 1980s. The revival was partly due to the strong Illini football teams in that era, led by standout quarterbacks such as Dave Wilson, Tony Eason, Jack Trudeau and Jeff George. Homecoming continued to be a fall highlight through the '90s and into the 21st century, with three capacity crowds enjoying the Homecoming football game in the first decade of the 2000s.
While in some ways Illinois has cherished and maintained certain Homecoming traditions, it has also moved forward across the century, finding new ways to celebrate and new causes for pride in the institution, its students and its alumni. Innovations that have sprung up over the years include the parade, pep rally, Homecoming Court, tent parties and many additional campus activities. The latest Homecoming tradition to evolve is iHelp, a volunteer event begun in 2006 by the Student Alumni Ambassadors of the UI Alumni Association, in which more than a thousand University students and alumni give back to their communities each year.