Homecoming: it’s about the memories

Central celebrates 90 years of homecoming tradition

CWU Archives and Special Collection

The class of 1988 cheers on the football team during the traditional homecoming game

Julia Moreno, Assistant News Editor

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Since it started in 1925, homecoming has been about celebrating Central’s past.

For alums who have graduated and moved on to be geologists, teachers, computer specialists and pilots, it’s a time to look back fondly at the memories and the friends made at Central.

It’s a time for Wildcats past and present to reflect on a favorite study spot, their favorite mentor or a favorite snack in the SURC—or maybe the Samuelson Union Building, depending when they were a student.

The tradition of homecoming traces its roots to the early 1890s, when former students would be invited back to the school during Commencement.

In 1925, however, Central’s football team had a winning record and the team’s graduate manager decided to showcase that fact by proposing a formal homecoming event to coincide with a game.

The first college homecoming started at the University of Missouri in 1911.

The inaugural homecoming program included a pep rally, one-act play, glee club performances,  a parade and a bonfire. After the game, there was a banquet and a dance in the school gym.

The event was a smash and in subsequent years, homecoming expanded to include a prize for best Homecoming sign and a stunt contest. Over the years, the event grew into one of the biggest annual campus celebrations.

1943 Alumna Lucille Hunt Johnson, writing in Central Remembers: A Collection of Memories and Anecdotes, published for Central’s Centennial in 1992, recalled one particularly elaborate parade float she helped build for the event.

“During homecoming, I had a part in designing one year’s prize winning float in which we used old football uniforms of the college team, and played a mock football game on a wagon bed pulled by a tractor,” Johnson wrote.

Starting in 1944, homecoming was coordinated by the Alumni Office, which has organized the event ever since.

“Historically, alumni offices at other colleges and universities have taken a lead to do homecoming,” said Scott Drummond, associate director of campus life and director of campus activities. “It was a way to invite graduates from their colleges back “home” usually for a football game, dance, awards, social gatherings, sharing memories, etc.”

Today, Central celebrates homecoming with some new traditions along with the old.

According to Robert Ford, senior director of Alumni & Constituent Relations, recent additions to the program include the Mr. and Mrs. Central contest, Wellington’s Wildfire, the Wildcat 5k color run, the women’s soccer and rugby games and the Fan Zone.

Additionally, in the past several decades Central has hosted a number of big name entertainers during homecoming weekend, including the late Robin Williams, who performed at Central in 1986.

More recently, homecoming acts have included Jay Leno, David Spade, Demetri Martin, Patton Oswalt, Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Brad Sherwood and Drew Carey.

This year comedian, Iliza Shlesinger, will be performing in the SURC ballroom at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Ford said another special element in this year’s homecoming will be a banquet in Sue Lombard Hall to celebrate the 50 year reunion of Central’s class of 1965.

Ford said former Central President James Brooks will be present to receive the Distinguished Alumni award.

“Dr. Brooks just turned 90, he was the only president that has been an alum of CWU,” Ford said. “He will be coming back for the Distinguished Alumni and 50-year reunion awards banquet taking place Friday of Homecoming as he was the president when the class of ’65 was on campus.”

Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the strong connection between homecoming and football.

“This year, we are playing Humboldt State for homecoming and it is going to be a great match up,” Ford said.

The game will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Tomlinson Stadium.

In the past, the biggest football rivalry was between Western Washington University (WWU) and Central, until WWU dropped football a few years ago.

However, Ford said that more recently new rivalries have sprung up between Central and Western Oregon University and Simon Fraser University.

“When I was in school in the 1970s, we used to have an incredible rivalry between Central and Eastern,” Drummond recalled.

However, homecoming isn’t just about the colorful floats or football games or banquets. It’s about the memories.

“Homecoming was celebrated only a short time later and I was chosen queen,” recalled Evelyn Conant Thompson, class of 1944, in Central Remembers. “I was then given the authority, as queen, to declare that all . . .  students were to save the apple crop! No classes were to be held the following week. Since all the manpower was off to war, those students who agreed to were bussed to Yakima and Wenatchee to pick apples. This was possibly the only time Central’s students were called on for such a project.”

That was certainly a homecoming to remember.

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