What is ‘homecoming’ and why do we celebrate it? (2024)

What is ‘homecoming’ and why do we celebrate it? (1)

Andie Balenger photoA photo of me high-fiving a classmate after a good play during the annual “Powderpuff” football game.

What is ‘homecoming’ and why do we celebrate it? (2)

The fall season welcomes an abundance of festivities into our lives. Football fans are glued to the television, families and friends race through corn mazes, and neighborhood trick-or-treating arrives just before the first snowfall. But a weeklong celebration occurs annually in late September or early October that has forever been a mystery to me. While I participated in “Homecoming” in high school and college, nobody told me why or what we were celebrating.

Homecoming celebrations date back to the early 1900s, first originating on college campuses in America. In 1910, the University of Missouri held the first official homecoming event, with college students on the school’s campus requesting that alums return to their alma mater to cheer alongside them at a football game. Since this first “welcome back” event, students have added activities before and after the big game to unite the student body and rejoice at the start of a new school year.

It was not until the 1920s that Homecoming Week infiltrated high schools. This fact shocked me because the term “homecoming” seems more appropriate in the context of high schools – not colleges. Are you really going “home” when you travel many miles from your birthplace to attend college? Perhaps some people view their university as a home away from home, which is fine and normal. But considering that the celebrations are much more common in high schools now than in colleges, it’s interesting that the celebration did not originate with college-aged students returning to their hometown around Thanksgiving break. But I digress…

Since the first homecoming at the University of Missouri, the celebration has grown in purpose and scope. What originally was a chance to get together with old friends and watch a football game has evolved into a week-long class competition to see who has the most school spirit. The week usually has a theme – like decades, cartoons, or movies – and the scored events that take place throughout the week require you to stay within the confines of the subject matter.

Homecoming at Gladstone High School was always a sight to behold. With various activities, the freshmen through senior classes would compete to earn the most points and secure the title of “Homecoming Champions.” While I am still unsure how scores were calculated – and how we took second place to the freshmen my senior year – being actively engaged in float decorating, dance competitions, and dress-up days was an opportunity to socialize with classmates beyond academics.

I especially connected with my classmates in the last scored event of the school week: Air Band. A relatively new tradition at GHS, each class orchestrates, choreographs, and presents a 10-minute performance in front of the student body. The performance has to relate to the theme, be school-appropriate, and be judged by a three-person panel of teachers.

Air Band was a serious matter to me and my classmates. We would have 1-2 hour practices every night before the Friday performance, practicing elaborate stunts and conjuring jaw-dropping moments that would hopefully “wow” the judges. My best friend and I would spend a whole day splicing together relevant songs and burning them to a CD – a skill we had to learn that most people my age do not have.

All my classmates laughed, cried, and argued (a lot) at the practices that preceded the Friday premiere. Yet, when we got out on stage senior year and executed our performance to a delightful medley of Christmas tunes (the Homecoming theme was “holidays”), those in the audience would never know of the hardships behind the scenes. Through this experience, we learned to listen to each other, understand our differences, and choose the best path forward to success.

While heightening school spirit may be the main reason to celebrate Homecoming, with the week culminating in a pep rally to excite the football team before the big game, its benefits extend far beyond that. Homecoming allowed me to get to know those I would never connect with in an academic setting.

To put this in perspective, I spent hours at the Gladstone bus garage with people I did not have classes with, talking not only about the best way to secure tissue paper to chicken wire but also our favorite music, hobbies, and other teenage topics that seem irrelevant now. Yet, we were forming friendships and memories that would last a lifetime. While the primary goal of our collaboration was to earn the bragging rights of “Homecoming Champions,” we were really learning more about our classmates.

The socialization outside of the classroom is why Homecoming is still a staple in American schools.

— — —

Andie Balenger is a native of Gladstone and is currently attending Northern Michigan University. Her column addresses topics from the perspective of a young adult and runs Thursdays in the Daily Press.

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What is ‘homecoming’ and why do we celebrate it? (2024)
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