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The birth of tradition: homecoming

Anne Shaffer
Assistant Features Editor

Many organizations create floats to ride in the Millersville homecoming parade, like this one depicting the Olympics from this summer.

Each year, a great many high schools, colleges, and universities across the United States take part in an old tradition: the homecoming celebration.
Defined by Dictionary.com as “an annual event held by a college, university, or high school for visiting alumni,” homecoming welcomes back alumni to the campus and hosts activities to which alumni are invited.
There is one, thing, however, regarding homecoming about which many people probably know nothing.
The controversy.
Three separate universities—Baylor University, the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”), and the University of Illinois—have all previously staked claims that they are the true originators of homecoming.
Officially, University of Missouri is the originator of the event, hosting their first homecoming celebration in 1911.
According to Active.com, “Jeopardy!” says so. Trivial Pursuit says so. Rumors have circulated that the NCAA sanctions University of Missouri as the true creator of homecoming. Even the CBS TV show “NCIS” tells viewers that homecoming came from Mizzou in an episode that aired in 2011.
However, Baylor had its first “Home-Coming” in 1909. It featured a football game, alumni gatherings, a pep rally, and a parade—most of which can be found in today’s homecoming event listings. The University of Illinois had its first homecoming in 1910, planned by two seniors to try to raise school spirit to support their football team against University of Chicago.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there are a number of reasons which explain how the official recognition went to University of Missouri instead of to Baylor.
For one thing, Baylor is smaller than University of Missouri. For another, Baylor did not host another homecoming until 1915. University of Illinois, however, had fairly regular homecoming celebrations since 1910, except for 1918, during the influenza epidemic.
Interestingly, the University of Illinois decided to check into its claims that it was the original university to host homecoming, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It found, ultimately, that Baylor held the honor and even removed from their website a statement that they were the creators of the tradition.
The University of Missouri is taking an ambiguous stance on the matter. Though they do not claim for themselves the official status as homecoming creator, they also do not say that they are not the creators, either, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Baylor also does not take full credit: its website states, “while many Homecoming (sic) celebrations around the nation originated in the late teens or early 1920s, few were as early as Baylor’s.”
Despite sharing a few similarities with the University of Missouri—same school colors, same initials—Millersville’s homecoming celebration is a lot less controversial.
Millersville’s first homecoming celebration took place on Nov. 11, 1933, which was also Armistice Day (now generally replaced by Veterans Day), according to The Snapper’s own archives.

The 1933 homecoming program.

According to The Snapper’s issue from Nov. 7, 1933, the homecoming events included: a football game (Millersville versus Shippensburg), an aftergame tea reception, a dinner, a speech by the president, a performance by the Men’s Glee Club, and a varsity club dance. Any event that required a ticket or reservation cost 50 cents. Events for recent years have expanded since this first homecoming.
This year’s interim director of alumni, Steven DiGuiseppe, has been involved with planning Millersville’s homecoming since his graduation from Millersville in 1982, even serving as Director of Alumni from 1991 to 2005. DiGuiseppe says that Millersville’s objective with its homecoming celebration has “never been about the class system.”
Planners try to include events that everyone, from students to faculty to alumni, can enjoy.
To that end, he has instituted several events during his time here. He expanded the parade, which used to include only the university and extend for only one mile, into an event that now includes the community, reaches two miles, and attracts over 2,000 people. DiGuiseppe also instituted the Athletic Hall of Fame and was involved in planning the Fall Fling, which began just five years ago.
According to DiGuiseppe, Millersville has a lot of the same events as other schools, but they try to do new things within events to make them exciting, from balloon sculptors to music. This year, they have hired two buses so they can take alumni on tours of the campus, which could have changed a great deal since they last set foot here.
Let the other universities have the homecoming controversy. Millersville will take innovation instead.

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