Dating back to a series of 11 football games against alumni teams that began in 1903, Northern Illinois University’s Homecoming tradition evolved into the oldest major-college tradition in the state and one of the longest in the country. In 2019, NIU hosted its 113th Homecoming.
In what was headlined “The Eventful Game” in the Northern Illinois student newspaper, that initial contest versus the alumni on October 10, 1903, which NIU won, 6-0, positioned the locals among the nation’s collegiate alumni gathering pioneers. The University of Michigan (1897), NIU (1903), Baylor University (1909), Indiana University (1909), Southwestern (TX) University (1909), University of Illinois-Champaign / Urbana (1910), and University of Missouri (1911) are generally considered the earliest celebrants in such occasions.
For decades, debate had arisen about Homecoming criteria among institutions trying to position themselves favorably—such as an intercollegiate opponent, annual observances, social event(s), formal dance, concert(s), parade, or just the use of the term “Homecoming.”
In 1906, Northern’s student newspaper referred to that weekend as “Home Coming.” A year later, the alumni organization’s constitution stated “…there shall be a social meeting of the alumni and guests, following the annual football game on the evening of the second Saturday in October.”
Northern defeated Wheaton College, 29-3, on October 24, 1914, in its first Homecoming against an intercollegiate opponent. For math majors, please note that Homecoming was canceled in 1917, 1918, and 1919 because the NIU football program was suspended due to World War I.
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