The 10 Best College Homecoming Rituals

Homecoming is that special time when middle-aged adults can return to their alma maters, wander the campus, and visit their old hangouts without being seen as creepy or as someone’s dad regardless of what they studied – health management, nursing, public relations, criminology, business. And while much will have changed in their years away, there are always a handful of rituals passed down from class to class and kept alive by the next crop of students with the shared understanding that it’s those rituals that help a school keep its identity. From century-old traditions to modern innovations, here are our picks for the 10 greatest rituals of college homecomings.

  1. Florida’s Gator Growl:

    Students and alums in Gainesville kick off their homecoming weekend with a pep rally considered the biggest one run by students in the world. With pyrotechnics, live music by the marching band and professional acts, comedy shows, skits, cheers, and more, this 80-year-old ritual is one of the best in America. The list of past headliners is a veritable Who’s Who of entertainment legends: Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Hope, Jay Leno, Bill Cosby, Dave Chappelle, Billy Crystal. This year, the event is partnering with the Wounded Warrior Project under the motto “United We Growl” to honor American veterans and support the group’s cause of helping injured war vets get the help they need to adjust to life stateside.

  2. Beating the drum at Tyler Junior College:

    Few student bodies show the sheer dedication to a homecoming ritual as those at this community college in Tyler, Texas. Every homecoming week for years has been marked by the beating of a large drum to the school’s Apache Cadence, not once or twice, but round the clock from 8 a.m. on Monday to kickoff on Saturday. Students sign up for the privilege of beating the drum in one-hour shifts. The idea was the result of some students in 1948 beating a Jack Daniels keg with cowhide stretched over it at the homecoming game that year. Only once in the last 18 years has the drumbeat been paused. The result? Terrible weather forced a draw that year.

  3. South Dakota State’s Hobo Day:

    Even though the word “hobo” is not derogatory, in our politically correct age one might think a school would shy away from use of the word for fear of offending anyone. Amazingly, at SDSU, Homecoming 2012 will mark the 100th anniversary of Hobo Day, “the largest one-day event in the state.” The festivities (which now stretch out over the course of the week) include such august activities as the Bum Olympics; the Miss Homelycoming pageant, where men compete in a beauty contest dressed as women, complete with swimsuit portion (shudder); Bum-A-Meal, where students venture out into the community to eat a free meal courtesy of a community family; and a parade led by a Grand Pooba riding the Bummobile. As far as homecoming rituals go, it’s certainly one of the most bizarre yet also one of the most beloved.

  4. Lighting the Y at BYU:

    Once a fairly common occurrence, the 380-foot high, 130-foot wide “Y” on Y Mountain is now lit only during the week of homecoming. Hundreds of students make the 1.2-mile trek up the trail to the letter, the first 150 given a light bulb to screw into place on the letter’s outline. The ritual is a continuation of a rite started in 1923, when students would burn mattresses soaked in diesel fuel around the letter’s edges. The lit-up sign shines like a beacon in the Utah night and is truly a sight to behold when illuminated.

  5. University of Missouri’s blood drive:

    Although its long-running claim of being the oldest homecoming in the nation has been contested, Missouri still has plenty to brag about regarding its two weeks of festivities. In particular, the school has been hosting a homecoming blood drive since 1983. In 1999, the 3,156 pints of blood given broke a Guinness world record for a single day’s donations. Last year, the drive collected 5,264 units of blood, while the food drive brought in more than 63,000 pounds of food. Other schools like Appalachian State University have followed Mizzou’s lead and started their own blood drives in recent years, lending proof to the fact that this ritual is one of the country’s best.

  6. Howard University’s Yardfest:

    Probably every college has some kind of party to celebrate homecoming, but at Howard, homecoming weekend is a three-day, all-out bash. And the heart of the action is Friday’s famous outdoor music festival known as Yardfest. Thousands of Howard students, locals, and hip hop lovers from everywhere from East Coast to West Coast crowd into the quad for a half day of performances by established rap acts and hungry newcomers. Over the years since the first Yardfests in the late ’80s, big names like Kanye West, Jay Z, P Diddy, LL Cool J, Fabolous, and DMX have descended on campus and created indelible memories on the minds of the lucky attendees.

  7. Running around the Dartmouth bonfire:

    In 1904, on the occasion of a visit from the Sixth Earl of Dartmouth, Dartmouth College students built a huge bonfire and marched around it in their pajamas. Over the years that event has evolved into a Dartmouth Night homecoming ritual at the Ivy League school. Until 1990, the fire comprised one tier for each year of the freshmen class. Although it’s still a huge inferno, today freshmen trumpet their graduation year by running one lap around the blaze for their corresponding graduation year, plus 100. In other words, this year’s fish will run 116 laps, while seniors urge them to touch the fire. Freshmen also build the bonfire, under supervision of safety inspectors.

  8. Game Ball Run at Virginia Tech:

    Well before a running back gets his hands on the homecoming football game ball at Virginia Tech, dozens of ROTC members will have run the ball all over campus. This annual ritual sprouted in 1977, when cadets in the Ranger Company first ran the game ball 100 miles around campus. During homecoming week, cadets running around screaming “game ball!” and urging people to touch the ball are a common sight. The ball is kept moving constantly all week, beginning with a pep rally and culminating with a ceremony and run into the stadium at game time.

  9. Campaniling at the University of Northern Iowa:

    At midnight on the Friday of Homecoming Week each year you’ll find hundreds of UNI students kissing in the shadow of the campus campanile, or bell tower. The tradition stretches all the way back to the ’20s, a time women far outnumbered men at the school. Legend has it that men would call random numbers at the women’s dorms, arrange a meeting at the campanile, then hide in the bushes to size up their date before either emerging to “go campaniling” or trying again the next night. While today the participants include more established couples and less blind dates, it is still believed that to be a true graduate of Northern Iowa (and keep a brick from falling on your head), you must go campaniling before you leave.

  10. UCF’s Spirit Splash:

    The Gators don’t own the only awesome alliterative homecoming ritual in Florida. The University of Central Florida is home to one of the highest-rated homecoming events in the nation. Spirit Splash was born in 1995 when the student body president was pushed into the Reflecting Pond and other students joined him in the water. Armed with the knowledge that the pond could hold thousands of people, thanks to a 1973 commencement speech by Richard Nixon at the spot, the school made an annual activity out of storming the pond. Students rush out into the pond and dance to music, watch performances by the UCF cheerleaders, and listen to speeches by the head coach and a few star players to get pumped up for Saturday’s football game.

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