On November 23, 1912, KU played its first Homecoming football game against well-established rivals the Missouri Tigers. At a bonfire in front of Fraser Hall the Friday before the game, the ceremonial burning of a wooden tiger riled KU students. The next day, in front of 9,000 cheering fans, the Jayhawks defeated Missouri 12-3. For years, it was custom to play Missouri for every other Homecoming game.
In 1925, the first Homecoming Queen was crowned at KU, but the ceremony did not become tradition until 1933. A new queen was crowned each year until 1969, when anti-war demonstrations and stormy race relations led to the committee’s decision that it was “more appropriate to recognize those who embody the academic spirit for which this community was established.” The Ex.C.E.L. Award now recognizes two students with outstanding leadership, involvement and academics. Two more awards have since been created: the Spirit of 1912 Award honors KU graduates for lifelong commitment to the University; and the Jennifer Alderdice Homecoming Award recognizes current students who demonstrate outstanding loyalty and dedication.
In 1956 KU introduced Homecoming themes. The first official theme was “Songs of Victory.” At the time, the theme was incorporated into lawn decorations created by fraternities, sororities and residence halls. Today, the theme provides a basis for Homecoming Week celebrations and guides the week’s events.
A century later, some traditions and events remain while others have become Homecoming lore. Hobo Day was an integral part of celebrations in the 1920s, complete with costumes, pep rallies and street theatre. A student talent show called Jayhawk Follies has evolved into today’s Jayhawk Jingles. The 1971 game against Kansas State unveiled a second KU mascot when Baby Jay hatched during halftime.
Today, students spend Homecoming Week participating in campus activities that build spirit and benefit the Lawrence community. By Saturday, they are ready to showcase their floats in the annual parade down Jayhawk Boulevard and cheer the Jayhawks to another Homecoming victory.
In 2011, Rich and Judy Billings of Lakewood, Colo., both 1957 KU graduates, created an endowment to fund future editions of Homecoming.
The KU Alumni Association serves as the primary host of the Steering Committee with the support of the entire KU campus and Lawrence community. The committee consists of 10 students and two advisers from the KU Alumni Association.