Homecoming: A history

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The audience stands and watches BYU Homecoming Celebrations in 1965. (BYU Special Collections)

BYU students and faculty have created traditions to celebrate the university since its founding in 1875. BYU’s homecoming activities have long encouraged school spirit and an all-around good time.

The first official homecoming event happened in 1891 and was known as “Founder’s Day.” Benjamin Cluff, the first president of BYU and the person who helped bring the school from an academy to an official university, organized the event to honor individuals who helped establish the school. Founder’s Day quickly became an annual tradition, but it wasn’t until 1896 that football intramural games became part of the tradition. 

Founder’s Day usually consisted of a speech by the university president and, on occasion, Church leaders. In 1900, President Joseph F. Smith added an element to the ceremony when he noted he was grateful that the university was able to make it through some trying financial times. 

A parade was also common during the Founder’s Day celebration. In 1905, the student body invited the faculty to participate. Some of the professors were so excited that they gave speeches praising BYU, then called Brigham Young Academy. 

1906 saw the class of 1907 try to paint their graduation year on what is now known as Y Mountain. However, a group of seniors attempted to change the painting to “1906.” This led to the university securing space on the mountain to display the now-famous Y.

A student in 1915 called Founder’s Day “the largest and best celebration in the history of the school.” To celebrate the 40th anniversary of BYU, students woke to the sound of 40 guns being fired from Temple Hill. As a school, they hiked Maple Flat and were treated to lunch and dinner. 

It wasn’t until 1930 that the name homecoming was officially used. There was a football game, an alumni celebration and a dance for the student body. 

The Homecoming Parade has long been a staple of BYU Homecoming. This 1934 photo shows what the parade looked like during the Great Depression era. (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

In 1940, the student body elected Homecoming royalty and performed a play about the life of Brigham Young. They also participated in a parade where various clubs could design floats and enter them into a contest. The prize was $10 and a trophy. 

Cosmo joined the party in 1953. He was created by the president of the Pep Club, Dwayne Stevenson. The costumed cougar has been a part of Homecoming Week ever since.

Like today, concerts were sometimes a big part of homecoming. In 1971, John Denver, singer of “Country Roads,” performed at the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse. The event was called the Homecoming Concert instead of the BYU Spectacular as it is known today. 

Homecoming can be a great time to establish new traditions for the school. In 1982, quarterback Steve Young helped begin a ceremony called “bringing out the Y,” where an eight-foot wooden Y was brought onto the football field. However, not every tradition meets the test of time. In 1988, the BYU decided to stop electing homecoming queens. The administration said the pageants were not worth the time or money. 

Mickey Mouse made an appearance at BYU in 1996, when he marched with the Homecoming Parade.

In 1998, Homecoming Week included a baby pageant in an effort to include married students. Babies could compete in categories like “best hair” or “spirit of the Y” and win a $15 gift certificate to the University Mall. 

Alumni, an important part of any homecoming, have been included in various events throughout the years. In 2004, four alumni athletes who competed in the Athens Olympic Games were chosen to be the “grand marshals” at the parade. 

Over the years, homecoming and its activities have evolved, just as students have changed. In 2012, students wore black instead of blue to the homecoming game. This was in an attempt to intimidate their opponent, Oregon State. This year, the True Blue Foam event was moved to an earlier date outside of Homecoming Week to better align with warm weather. The Homecoming Parade was also canceled and replaced with a scavenger hunt.

BYU has come a long way since 1875, but the school spirit remains the same. As students rang in Homecoming Week this year, the university sought to make sure they have a good time and remember why they chose to “go blue.”

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