History - Iowa State University Alumni Association


Jump to:
History of Current Traditions
Traditions Lost Over Time
Historical Timeline
From the Archives

Historical Overview

In 1912, ISU was an agricultural college with 1,830 students. The campus roads were still unpaved, Lake LaVerne was just a marsh, and Curtiss Hall was brand new. In 1912, ISU also celebrated its first Homecoming, an event that would become an integral part of the university during the next century.

The idea was first proposed by Professor Samuel Beyer, the college’s “patron saint of athletics,” who suggested that Iowa State inaugurate a celebration for alumni during the annual football game against rival University of Iowa. Iowa State’s new president, Raymond A. Pearson, liked the idea and issued a special invitation to alumni two weeks prior to the event: “We need you, we must have you. Come and see what a school you have made in Iowa State College. Find a way.”

The response was greater than Pearson expected. A reported 152 alumni returned to campus, where they enjoyed tours of campus buildings, a play presented by the sophomores, and a scrimmage football game between the freshmen and reserves. Classes were cancelled on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and a pep meeting was held in Curtiss Auditorium that featured songs, cheers, and a debate. On Saturday morning, the alumni were invited to a reception and luncheon at Margaret Hall to “get together and talk about old times.”

But the main event of the weekend was the football game, which was played at State Field, a parking lot west of the present University Book Store. Although the Cyclones lost 21-7, students and alumni celebrated that night in festivities that were destined to “light up the sky for miles around, shake the stars in their beds, and make the imps below fearful for the strength of the earth’s crust.”

Homecoming 1912 was deemed a success, and plans for the next year’s festivities began almost immediately. Professor Beyer said, “We hope to make the custom so popular that in future years the number who come back will go far up into the hundreds.”

Beyer’s wish came true. As ISU evolved during the next 100 years, so did Homecoming. The celebration’s history is filled with pep rallies, parades, contests, and even riots as the ISU community has come together each year to celebrate alumni, the university, and, of course, football.

Unfortunately, ISU does not have a tradition of winning in the football category. The Cyclone team has a 37-56-6 Homecoming record, with its longest winning streak standing at three games (1926-1928 and 1976-1978). However, there is some good news: ISU has defeated Baylor, this year’s Homecoming rival, every time the two teams have met during Homecoming.

Perhaps the least notable Homecoming was in 1918 – because there wasn’t one. The Spanish influenza epidemic struck campus that fall and forced the football program to cancel the remainder of its season. The Bomb reported, “What the quarantine did not do to drive football out of existence at Ames, the S.A.T.C. (Student Army Training Corps) did. Between them both, football was put on the rack.”

The lost Homecoming was made up in 1934, the year of two Homecomings. Although the official Homecoming game was played against Kansas, there were more alumni at the Iowa State-University of Iowa game and was considered a second Homecoming by the students and visitors.

The 1953 Homecoming was one of the most famous in school history. After the Cyclones upset the University of Missouri 13-6, students marched to President James Hilton’s front lawn and demanded “No School Monday.” When the students realized he wasn’t home, they staged a sit-down on Lincoln Way (then U.S. Highway 30). The crowd also dragged Homecoming lawn displays into the street and set them on fire. Police from Ames and several surrounding towns resorted to using clubs and tear gas, but the crowd fought back with eggs, rocks, and pumpkins. Students reluctantly went to classes on Monday but returned to the Knoll again that night, shouting, “We want Tuesday off.” President Hilton promised to consider the idea after the next win, to which the crowd responded with, “We may not win another game.” They returned to rioting and barricading the highway, but eventually the mob dispersed. The riots were picked up by national news sources such as The Lost Angeles Times and Life. The chief of police, Orville Erickson, told Life, “They don’t seem to be angry as much as just plain nuts.”

A second riot occurred during Homecoming 1997, when ISU beat Baylor 24-17 and ended a 13-game losing streak. Hundreds of people rushed onto the field and brought down a goal post, which was then paraded to Lake LaVerne. The mob threw the goal post into the lake, along with a stop sign, the swan crossing sign, a dumpster, a light post, and barricades. A dozen people were arrested and a few were injured in the celebration. Special equipment was required to pull the objects out of Lake LaVerne, and it cost thousands of dollars to replace the goal post at Jack Trice Stadium.

While memorable, these events are only part of Homecoming’s rich history. Iowa Staters remember many highlights, including the birth of Cy the mascot, the dissolution and later revival of the Homecoming Queen, and Seneca Wallace’s famous play, “The Run.”

Homecoming is about more than just upsets and defeats. It is a celebration of the university’s past and present, its students and its alumni. Homecoming is a time to reminisce about college days, meet with old friends, and see the transformations on campus. And while Homecoming at ISU is turning 100 years old, it continues to symbolize all these things and serve the purpose that Professor Beyer envisioned back in 1912.

Current ISU Homecoming Traditions: A History

Lawn Displays
Although many ISU Homecoming traditions have come and gone during the past century, one event that has remained since the beginning is lawn displays.

In preparation for ISU’s first Homecoming, engineering students constructed an electric sign on Engineering Hall that measured 55 feet long and 20 feet high. At night the sign’s letters blinked on and off proclaiming “Beat Iowa, Eat Iowa.”

In the years that followed, signs were a popular decoration for Homecoming. According to the Des Moines Register in 1916, a large welcome sign was erected near the Northwestern Railroad depot, and Main Street was “one continuous lane of decorations.”

Displays moved to the lawns of campus residences in the early 1920s, and soon a contest was established between the houses, who competed for a silver loving cup. The Bomb reported in 1925: “There is a great deal of keen competition in house decorations, for two reasons: first, you may win the cup, and second, you want to show the alumni what you can do.” By the 1930s, the displays began to evolve from banners and crepe paper to more complex, three-dimensional structures. Clocks, rainbows, and even a roulette wheel were objects featured in the first lawn constructions. 

In 1942 – “the first wartime Homecoming” – the Homecoming Committee was forced to suspend the displays contest. “The absence of the Homecoming decorations usually displayed by all organized houses was the most obvious change noted by alumni of the college returning for the November celebration,” reported the 1943 Bomb.

Lawn displays were reinstated the following year, however, and they continued to become more elaborate and creative. The 1950 Bomb described decorations such as a steamroller crushing a Wildcat and a giant electric mixer declaring “Beat Kansas State.” Many displays also incorporated mechanical features. In 1953, Beta Theta Pi’s first place display included a huge hillbilly that was powered by the fraternity’s pledges to periodically fire his gun at a Missouri tiger and lighten up the display. The next year, Chamberlin House won first place for a display that included sound effects.

“We collected mounds of lumber, nails, bolts, gears, and chicken wire and transformed them by means of detailed diagrams into creatures that waved, squealed, wobbled, or wailed,” said lawn display participants in the Bomb. The displays attracted crowds of students, alumni, and community members who walked or drove through the area to admire the decorations.

By the 1970s, however, popularity in lawn displays began to decrease. The 1971 Homecoming Committee reported that participating houses declined from 26 to 17 in just three years. In a 1972 newspaper article titled “Lawn display worthless?” greek students said they were choosing to spend their money on service projects rather than lawn displays. “The heavy Greek competition in Homecoming lawn displays is a thing of the past,” said then vice president of Triangle fraternity, John Ryder. “It’s a worthless effort with no long-term lasting effect.”

The year 1976 saw a short revival of lawn display enthusiasm, as 26 participants entered the contest to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial-themed “ISUSA” Homecoming. The surge was short-lived, however, and the competition decreased again in the early 1980s. Homecoming 1982 became the second year in school history – the first since 1942 – with no lawn displays, as greek houses devoted themselves to community service. “Many students feel this is a better use of their time than putting this energy into a display which wouldn’t benefit anyone," reported the 1982 Homecoming Herald.

It would take one fraternity to bring back the tradition. In 1984, Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity paired with Gamma Phi Beta sorority to build a lawn display. Kirk Hale, one of the four co-chairs in charge of the project, expressed in the 1984 Fanfare that the pairing was determined to not let the tradition die, even if it was the only participant.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll start the trend of displays again,” Hale noted.

Hale’s prediction came true. The following year, more greek residences entered the competition, and the tradition was officially reestablished at ISU. A new policy went into effect in 2001 that allowed greek houses to choose between doing a community service or a lawn display, which enabled the members to devote time to one project, rather than balance both.

The lawn display contest has continued to evolve during the past two decades. Skits that accompany the display presentations were evident as early as the 1960s, but have become more elaborate in recent years. Tours through greekland were formed for community members and alumni to watch the displays and skits, an event that evolved into today’s “Ex-CY-tment in the Streets.”

Other rules have been established to maintain fairness in the competition. Teams have five weeks to build the displays, and they must follow safety and budget requirements. The displays are judged by ISU faculty and alumni based on categories such as creativity, organization, and relation to the Homecoming theme.

Although today’s students dedicate countless hours of hard work, many times working through the night to complete the displays, they say it is well worth the effort. “Nothing really compares to Iowa State lawn displays,” said Tym Wood, the 2011 Homecoming Central Committee co-chairman for lawn displays. “It’s all about Homecoming spirit.”

Banner contest

Lawn decorations aren’t the only display of spirit during Homecoming week. Banners and Victory Lane both give students a chance to show off their Cyclone pride.

Although “Welcome Alumni” banners have been a part of Homecoming since 1912, a banner contest was not established until the late 1960s. A banner is a large cloth sheet in a free-standing, wooden frame that students decorate using the Homecoming theme. The competition has traditionally included greek houses, and the winner was announced along with the lawn display champions at the pep rally or Homecoming dance intermission.

When lawn display popularity declined in the early 1970s, so did the banner contest, decreasing from 40 entries in 1971 to nine in 1974. However, with the elimination of the lawn displays in 1982, banners grew as the only Homecoming decoration competition. The banners were moved from central campus to the lawns of the greek houses, “hopefully to appease those alumni who miss the traffic jams and large crowds once attracted to the Greek system by the displays,” reported the Bomb.

As lawn displays returned, banners were moved to outside the football stadium, and then to central campus. The greek pairings usually incorporate their lawn display theme into the banners, and the winners receive points that contribute to the overall greek Homecoming contest.

Starting in the 1980s, Victory Lane has been another decoration opportunity for Iowa Staters. Located in the parking lot north of Jack Trice Stadium, students, faculty, and staff paint on a 4-ft by 4-ft pavement square to demonstrate Homecoming spirit. Participants include various organizations such as residence halls, greek houses, and campus clubs.

Victory Lane was established for the ISU football team, who traditionally crossed over the area after winning the Homecoming game. Since remodeling the stadium, however, the team no longer goes over the decorated strip. Nevertheless, Victory Lane remains a tradition that – like the banners – shows Homecoming pride at ISU.

Pep rally
Nothing fires up Cyclone fans before the big Homecoming game like the annual pep rally. In 1912, students held the first Homecoming pep meeting in Curtiss Auditorium, where it was predicted that “battle speeches will be made and battle songs sung and the yells will raise the dead.” The pep rally became a main Homecoming event and was soon accompanied by a large bonfire. 

Homecoming 1930 saw ISU’s first pep barbeque. Named “Hamburgers for Homecoming,” the event provided meals of barbequed steak, beans, pickles, apples, and coffee to 3,000 students, according to the ISC Student. The barbeque marked the first time since the burning of Old Main that the entire campus ate as one group, and it was also the first time that no evening meal was served at the greek houses.

The pep rally, barbeque, and bonfire were all part of Homecoming during the next decade, feeding the hungry mob of “bean eaters” and providing entertainment such as the men’s quartet, fixed boxing matches, cheerleader performances, and pajama relays. Local campus bands provided music and the Cyclone football captains and coaches fired up the crowd. Beginning in 1933, the pep rally and barbeque was also the setting for the Homecoming Queen’s coronation.

A shortage of ground meat during World War II changed the slogan from “Hamburgers for Homecoming” to “Wieners in Wartime.” In 1943, the barbeque was eliminated altogether as a “war casualty,” according to the Bomb, although the pep rally and bonfire were held in the stadium as usual. The pep barbeque was returned to its prominent place in the Homecoming festivities in 1944.

The bonfire moved to different locations throughout the years, including State Field, the ROTC drill field, and Beardshear parking lot. Early pep rallies were usually held at State Field or the train station, unless rain forced the students into the Armory. By the 1950s, the event had moved to central campus.

Special activities have taken place during the rally. The 1949 crowd witnessed a daring parachute jump over Clyde Williams Field. In 1953, representatives of ISU’s Homecoming Central Committee challenged two Missouri Homecoming Committee members to a tandem bicycle race (ISU won). There have been Can-Can lines, flappers, flaming baton routines, and political parody performances. In the 1960s, the rally began to include a fireworks display, and in the 1970s, Yell Like Hell finals were added to the event. Pep rallies of the 1980s often included jugglers, hot air balloon rides, and the Iowa State Rodeo, in addition to ticket giveaways and even a Mr. Legs contest featuring the ISU football team. In 1977, “mass campaniling” was added to the pep rally, enabling hundreds of couples to become co-eds at the stroke of midnight while the marching band played the ISU Fight Song and fireworks lit up the sky.

While the pep rally grew in popularity, however, the bonfire disappeared in the mid-1960s and the pep barbeque was eliminated in 1970. This was likely due to the success of new Homecoming traditions such as Yell Like Hell and the Homecoming concert.

Both events resurfaced in 1975 at the request of alumni. The bonfire made sporadic appearances during Homecoming throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with the last mention of the event in 1993. The barbeque came back in the form of a buffet held in Hilton Coliseum that served 3,000 students, alumni, and faculty prior to the Homecoming game. The pregame meal became a gameday tradition and continues today as the Cyclone Central tailgate that takes place in the ISU Alumni Center before each home game.

Another variety of the pep barbeque was introduced in the mid-1980s as a mass sack lunch on campus. In 1985, only 50 “brown-baggers” came to the event; however, the lunch became more popular and the event expanded from one lunch during Homecoming to multiple barbeques, ice cream socials, and pancake feeds throughout the week. By the 2000s, a meal was served each day on central campus, an event that became known as “Food on Campus.” Today, Food on Campus attracts more than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff each day, serving meals such as pizza, pork burgers, and walking tacos with the purchase of a Homecoming button.

Although the pep rally has changed to no longer include the barbeque or bonfire, it remains true to its original purpose of bringing spirit and pep to students and alumni. Today’s Homecoming pep rally includes many of the same events that have been featured for decades: speeches by the football coach and players, Yell Like Hell finals, performances by the ISU dance team and cheerleaders, and an appearance by Cy. The pep rally serves as a wrap-up of the weeklong Homecoming events on campus and fires up the crowd for the football game the next day.

Homecoming Queen and King
The Homecoming Queen has played a traditional – and at times controversial – role in ISU’s Homecoming throughout the years. Although most records claim 1934 as the year of ISU’s first Homecoming Queen, the Bomb reported that one year earlier Sally Pucket, “a very pretty top heroine,” was crowned as the 1933 Pep Queen. According to the Bomb, “Queen Sally” won the hearts of many local business people, who gave her the keys to the city to reign over for one evening.

The queen generally held responsibilities that included presenting the prizes for lawn displays and appearing at various Homecoming events such as the pep barbecue, pep rally, and parade. She was also introduced to the Homecoming crowd at halftime of the football game and welcomed alumni to the celebration. Beginning in the early 1940s, the Homecoming Queen was accompanied by two attendants, the first and second runner-up candidates.

Queen candidates in the early years were nominated by their respective dormitories and sororities. Several all-college elections would then narrow the field and select a queen and her court. In 1950, however, the queen finalists were chosen by the football team from the University of Kansas, that year’s Homecoming opponent.

In 1952, Gib Stanek was crowned the first Pep King at Iowa State, and he joined Pep Queen Sue Moore in reigning over the Homecoming festivities. The Pep King’s reign was brief, however, and the role was eliminated the following year.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the queen contest became more complex, including a style show, various interviews, and formal teas with the judges. By the 1970s, the contest also included a swim suit competition. The number of applicants increased from 18 in 1949 to 70 in 1967. Despite its rising popularity among the candidates, other student groups on campus began to question the relevancy of the queen and claimed the contest was demeaning to women.

The Iowa State Daily served as the battlegrounds for the controversy. A letter to the editor in 1971 complained that the Homecoming Queen is treated as an object and is subject to constant judgment, her selection is based on superficial characteristics such as beauty, and the election only perpetuates the division among residences. Brad Teachman, a Homecoming Committee member, described the queen controversy in another Iowa State Daily editorial: “On one hand, she appears to be a symbol of purity, justice, and the American way. On the other, she is a sham to all womanhood for permitting herself to be exhibited like a piece of USDA Grade A.” Nevertheless, the Homecoming Committee decided to continue the tradition to please ISU alumni.

The following year, an ISU male student named Rich Talcott was nominated for Homecoming Queen by his dormitory. His name was sent in as “R. M. Talcott,” and shortly thereafter he received an invitation to the first queen candidate tea. However, when Talcott arrived at the tea with his male escort, as directed by the invitation, the Homecoming Committee refused to admit him. Talcott was eventually eliminated from the race, which began a stream of editorials claiming the election was unfair and discriminatory.

As a result of the Talcott case, along with pressure from various student groups, the royal tradition was officially discarded in 1973. The role of the Homecoming Queen was replaced for a few years by a host and hostess, who greeted alumni and attended all Homecoming activities.

ISU had 16 Homecomings with no queen, until the tradition was reinstated in 1988. A Homecoming King and Queen were selected based on grades, activities, and community service. Julie Newman, student advisor for Homecoming 1988, said, “This year’s Homecoming King and Queen represent the pride and professionalism of Iowa State.”

Controversy resurfaced in 1997, however, when an evaluation committee determined that the Homecoming court did not encompass the diversity of the student body, nor did it involve alumni. The committee suggested replacing the tradition with awards that would recognize alumni achievement. Many students spoke out about the change, writing to the Iowa State Daily that the Homecoming court awarded outstanding students for their efforts to ISU, and that competition was good for the campus. To make up for the dismissal of ISU royalty, Helser Hall crowned its own Homecoming King and Queen in 1998.

In 2006, the tradition was once again brought back to campus. Under the direction of the Student Alumni Leadership Council, the “Cardinal Court” scholarship was established to recognize students involved in the ISU community. Today, 10 students are selected to Cardinal Court based on academic achievements and community service, and the top two students preside as King and Queen.

Pep Squads
Homecoming involves many events throughout the week, but the most important is the big football game on Saturday. Many groups are responsible for the gameday enthusiasm and spirit at Jack Trice Stadium, including the ISU Varsity Marching Band, Cy squad, cheer squads, and dance teams.

The marching band and cheerleaders have been a part of ISU since Homecoming began. In 1912, the Bomb listed a “Yell Leader,” a male student who led the crowd in cheering for the team. During the next few years, that role would expand to a squad of two or three cheerleaders, who led gameday activities such as the “Locomotive,” the “Sky Rocket,” and a snake dance on the field. The A-M-E-S Quartet, organized in 1915, also entertained the crowds by singing “peppy numbers” through megaphones.

In 1924, the “Twisters,” a chapter of the men’s honorary pep organization Pi Epsilon Pi, was formed to assist the cheerleaders and “instill the ‘Fight Ames Fight’ spirit into the student body.” The organization planned pep meetings, led cheers in the stands, and performed with the marching band at halftime. According to the 1928 Bomb, “The former system of one head cheerleader which has been in vogue at Iowa State for many years, has gradually given way to a large staff of cheerleaders trained to work in clock-like precision. Although the system is in its experimental stage, it promises to bring forth greater volumes of noise from the cheering sections.”

The year 1931 brought another milestone: ISU’s first mascot. While the traditional story of Cy is traced back to 1954, the Bomb has records of an earlier mascot – a dog named Cy. The Bomb reported in 1931 that Pi Epsilon Pi introduced the Iowa State mascot, who stayed with the cheerleaders on the sideline during games. Additional records of Cy the dog are found in the 1933 and 1936 Bombs, but then records of the dog disappear.

The year 1938 saw another change for the Cyclone cheer squad when Loraine Spencer became ISU’s first female cheerleader. Roy and Joyce Fisher became the first married cheerleaders on campus in the mid-1940s. Women also joined the marching band ranks in 1943, although the band would remain largely all-male until the 1970s.

The Twisters were reorganized on campus in 1939 as a female pep club and was accompanied in 1940 by Iowa State’s male pep club, the Yellow Jackets or “Yel-Jax.” The Twisters and the Yel-Jax attended all Cyclone sporting events and sponsored events such as pep dances. Beginning in 1941, both clubs also sold war stamps and defense bonds at football games to support the U.S. troops in World War II. The Twisters and the Yel-Jax both died off in the 1950s.

By the late 1940s, the cheer squad had expanded, performing more complex stunts and including acrobatics at the games, rallies, parades, and team send-offs. The group also traveled to away games to play recorded yells from Iowa State students in opposing teams’ stadiums. The 1951 Bomb reported: “Meeting weekly this small but loyal organization is forever cooking up some new and novel scheme to obtain spectator participation.”

Another favorite event of football games were the card section. The cardinal and gold cards are first mentioned in the 1932 Bomb and developed through the years to create entertaining formations in conjunction with the marching band’s performance at halftime.

The marching band was also growing. With shiny new uniforms, baton twirlers, and more advanced moving field formations, the 1953 Bomb claimed “No one left the stands during halftimes of football games this year.” That same year, Meredith Willson, author and composer of “The Music Man,” wrote a new Iowa State pep song, “For I For S Forever,” and performed it at halftime of the Homecoming game.

1954 was another major year for the Cyclones as Cy the cardinal mascot made his debut. The Pep Council decided that Iowa State needed a mascot to help boost school spirit. After determining that a cyclone costume was too difficult to build, a cardinal was chosen as homage to the university’s cardinal and gold colors. The Collegiate Manufacturing Company of Ames designed the $200 costume, and a name-the-bird contest followed. Iowa State alumna Wilma Beckham Ohlsen was the first of 17 people to submit the name “Cy,” receiving a personalized “I” stadium blanket for her winning entry.

The 8-ft cardinal was finally introduced during the 1954 Homecoming, represented by student Virgil Petty. Cy instantly became a popular entertainment for the crowds, doing the Charleston, forming a snake dance with the cheerleaders, or riding in the “pep car” that circled the track. In 1972, Cy made his most impressive entrance by landing in the stadium in a helicopter. Elizabeth Thomas became the first woman to be selected as Cy in 1975 and was often referred to as “Cybel.”

ISU’s Pom Squad, was established in 1967, comprised of 10 “Pom Pon Girls” who entertained crowds with choreographed dances. Flag girls were also added to the marching band in 1972 to carry the colors of the Big Eight schools, and the band’s new director, Jimmie Howard Reynolds, worked closely to incorporate the cheer squad, Pom Pon girls, and Pep Council with the band’s halftime performance. That year, Reynolds also added 41 women to the traditionally male-dominated marching band.

The marching band transformed again in 1980 with the creation of ISU’s first Alumni Band. Today, roughly 200 former ISU marching band players return to perform at halftime each year. The Alumni Band had a special guest for Homecoming 1994 when former men’s head basketball coach Johnny Orr joined the ranks to play the coronet as an honorary member of the band.

The Cy Squad also made changes. Although Cy was originally portrayed by only one student, over the years that number grew to keep up with Cy’s growing commitments and appearances. Soon a group of four to five students formed the mascot squad. In 1989, the Pep Council decided to initiate another mascot to share Cy’s many duties. A bird named “Clone” made his debut that year, performing with Cy at home games and taking over as the road mascot for a few years.

Today the pep squads include the mascot squad, an all-girl and a co-ed cheer squad, and the dance team divided into a cardinal and a gold squad. Although the various groups have transformed during the past century, they continue to boost spirit at ISU football games, rallies, and events.

Yell Like Hell
Each year, hundreds of shouting voices and stomping feet can be heard on campus as students prepare for the annual Yell Like Hell competition. Although one of ISU’s more recent Homecoming traditions, Yell Like Hell has become a favorite campus event.

Yell Like Hell was established in 1963, when residences were invited to submit “an original yell” that was judged on enthusiasm, originality, and appropriateness. The five finalists presented their yells again at the Homecoming pep rally. “We hope this will become a tradition,” said Homecoming Co-Chairman Dan Paul in the Iowa State Daily.

Paul’s goal was accomplished, and Yell Like Hell was an instant success among both the participants and the crowd of observers. During the initial years, the competition consisted of a 10-minute skit, a poetry reading, and a small cheer. The first contests took place behind the Armory, but have since moved to various campus locations including the steps of Beardshear Hall, in front of the Campanile, inside the Memorial Union, and in the tailgate lots by Jack Trice Stadium.

In 1970, Yell Like Hell had separate prelims for dormitories and greek houses, although the dormitory participation soon died out. Performances transformed from a simple yell to reciting the ISU Fight Song, and by the mid-1970s they had developed into short skits that involved ISU superstitions, campus buildings, or football rivalries. According to the 1982 Homecoming Herald, “The skits may have a storyline, songs, dances and cheers used to fire up the audience for the football game. The skits were judged on content, how fired up the participants were and on their spirit towards Homecoming.”

In 1986, ISU residence hall students returned to Yell Like Hell. The combined team of Forbes House in Maple Hall and Sage House in Storms Hall even advanced to the semi-finals of the competition. Non-greek residences competed sporadically during the next years, often joining with a fraternity to form a team. In 2001, off-campus and residence hall students created the “Cyclone All-Stars” to perform a shorter version of the Yell Like Hell skit. However, the residence hall groups dropped out of the competition the next year, and non-greek students have not been a part of Yell Like Hell since.

In the late 1980s, categories such as “demonstration of school spirit” and “use of ISU colors” were added to the judging criteria, which eventually led to the tradition of covering participants’ bodies from head to toe in cardinal and gold paint. A new improvisation category was added to the Yell Like Hell competition in 2001, in which teams were given a word prior to the performance and judged on how well they integrated that word into their skits. A stomp also became part of the skit that involved clapping, thigh-slapping, and stepping combinations.

Today, Yell Like Hell features multiple chants and the ISU Fight Song, accompanied by choreography. The teams go through three rounds of elimination, during which they are judged on their creativity, enthusiasm, movement precision, portrayal of the Homecoming theme, yelling expression, and incorporation of the improvisation word. Awards are given to both the group and individual with the best overall performance, in addition to other honors for best choreography, costumes, and script.

The final round of Yell Like Hell is held at the Friday night pep rally in front of students, alumni, and the community. Yell Like Hell is a tradition unique to ISU, and with the intense yelling, stomping, and jumping, the audience can’t help but feel the spirit and enthusiasm of Homecoming.

For many students, Homecoming activities start a week earlier. Homecoming tournaments, held the week before Homecoming, generate fun competition between students with events such as volleyball, treds football, and basketball.

Athletics events have been a part of Homecoming since its beginning, when the freshmen played the reserve team in a football game to entertain returning alumni. Over the years, competitions such as pushball, arm wrestling, and powder puff football games have been included in Homecoming festivities.

However, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that athletic tournaments became an integral part of the celebration. In 1979, the Friday of Homecoming was deemed “Thank God It’s Cy Day,” and part of the event included “novelty athletics” such as pushball, weightlifting, and tug-of-war.

Tournaments have grown to involve other activities, including bowling, mud volleyball, pool, darts, and flag football. In the early 2000s, an Olympics event was added with unique events such as pie and ice cream eating contests, foosball, badminton, and races. Guitar Hero and Nintendo 64 also became part of the tournaments.

Today the events are divided into the Gold Division that is open to non-greek students, and the Cardinal Division that is open to greek members, who compete in the tournaments for points in the overall Homecoming greek competition. The competitive tournaments encourage student participation and act as the precedent for the Homecoming week ahead.

Homecoming Traditions: Lost Over Time

Homecoming Dance
Whether the football team won or lost, for decades students gathered after the Homecoming game to dance the night away at the all-university Homecoming dance, one of ISU’s most festive traditions.

The first “Fall Gala” dance was held in 1912 and became an annual tradition. In the 1930s, the Homecoming dance was sponsored by the Pep Club, and pledges had the responsibility of selling tickets and wearing sandwich board advertisements on campus. Held in the Armory the Friday of Homecoming, more than 4,000 students danced to a live band, and the Homecoming Queen and lawn display winners were announced during intermission.

However, “the splendor of these Homecomings faded in 1942,” reported the Iowa State Daily, and the pep dance was cancelled due to World War II. Students saw its return the next year, and it became so popular that two pep dances were held in the Memorial Union on both the Friday and Saturday evenings of Homecoming. In 1948, the Bomb reported that “because of the great number of students who wanted tickets for the dance, music was ‘piped’ to the State Gymnasium where several hundred couples danced.”

The 1950 Homecoming dance featured famed Louis Armstrong and his all-star band, and students and alumni crowded the Memorial Union to hear his jazz tunes. Other guest musicians over the years included Frankie Masters, Buddy Morrow, and Glenn Miller. In 1961, tickets for the dance featuring Les Elgart and his band were sold out in one hour.

The Homecoming dance remained part of the festivities through the 1960s and 1970s, although its popularity slowly decreased as the Homecoming concert attracted more and more students each year. Although the Fall Gala was officially eliminated in 1972, the Bomb reported various dances in the following Homecomings.

In 2000, the Government of the Student Body, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and the Student Alumni Leadership Council reinitiated the Fall Gala. The semi-formal dance was held in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union after the Homecoming game, featuring live music from the Confidentials and free Latin dance lessons. The event was popular for a few years but has since disappeared from ISU’s Homecoming festivities.

Homecoming Concert
The Homecoming concert was introduced into the line-up of Homecoming events in the early 1960s as an alternative to the annual Homecoming dance. The first concerts took place in the Armory, and then moved to C.Y. Stephens and Hilton Coliseum.

Popular artists featured in the concert’s early years included Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. As the event reached its peak of popularity in the 1970s, it attracted entertainers Neil Diamond, The Lettermen, Three Dog Night, and Jefferson Starship. Homecoming 1976 “might have been the longest homecoming in Iowa State history,” according to the Bomb, after the Eagles were called back for two encores at their concert in Hilton Coliseum. The Homecoming concert became more sporadic in the 1980s, but it still managed to attract big names such as Elton John, Whitney Houston, and Aerosmith.

A new event on campus in 1983, the Battle of the Bands, eventually replaced the concert. Local amateur bands competed at the Homecoming barbeque in the Scheman Building Courtyard for the chance to play at Grand Daddy’s bar in Ames. The Battle of the Bands only last a few years in the 1980s, but was reestablished in 2005. Today the contest is open to all musical groups, who perform on central campus. The grand prize is awarded to the top band based on audience response and performance ability. In 2007, the competition combined with the traditional Homecoming concert when The Nadas performed a concert as a headlining band for Battle of the Bands.

VEISHEA isn’t the only ISU celebration that has featured a parade. The Homecoming parade was one of the earliest Homecoming events and has been a part of the festivities throughout the past century.

The first “stunt parades” in the 1920s included horses, mules, and wagons with decorative signs and costumes. By 1926, the parade had been transformed into a competition with prizes for the best float. The Bomb described the 1945 Homecoming parade as “endlessly amusing with the Chi Omegas taking one first prize with their roller-skating corn-borer and the Betas taking the other first prize for their ‘Hellzapoppin’ float.”

In the mid-1950s, a new form of the parade – the Scrap Heap Scramble – was introduced. Men’s residences and other campus groups built cars made from scrap heaps. The Bomb described the event: “Parading down Union Drive from the Union parking lot and finishing near the State Gymnasium, it was doubtful whether some of the scrap heaps would hold together long enough to finish the trek.” Faculty members judged the car entries on originality, mechanical ingenuity, humor, costumes, and age and safety of the car.

In 1957 the parade made another transformation. Known as the Triumph March, the parade followed a path marked by lighted flares across campus to the traditional pep rally. Participants in the march carried torches, and men’s residences competed for prizes with their entries that, according to the Bomb, “suggested countless ways to overcome Kansas.”

Although the Triumph March was only successful for a few years, it later evolved into the popular “snake dance.” The snake dance was formed by students holding on to each other around the waist. Led by Cy and the cheerleaders, the parade made its way past residence halls and campus buildings, picking up more students on their way and ending at the pep rally on central campus.

The snake dance was popular through the 1960s and was briefly revived in 1977 at the request of an alum. In 1990, the “parade of people” was once again brought back as the ISU band marched through campus, attracting students and leading them to the pep rally and bonfire. The group of people carried a life-sized Kansas State Jayhawk dummy above their heads, and head coach Jim Walden threw it into the fire.

The event became known as the “Step-Off Parade.” As it grew in popularity, the parade added participants such as the cheer and pom squads and the ISU football players. Later, the event grew to include the Yell Like Hell participants, ISU’s Family of the Year, campus clubs, and the Barker Brigade, a lawn chair drill team. Traveling from Towers to the Memorial Union, community families, alumni, and students came to watch the parade. Despite its surge in popularity, however, the Homecoming parade was eliminated in recent years.

Class Break

When ISU’s president cancelled classes on the Friday and Saturday of the college’s first Homecoming, he inadvertently began a trend in which future students wanted a class dismissal for the annual celebration. In the 1930s, students decided to take action on their own with a “class break.” Led by an impromptu band, a group stormed into classrooms, disrupting lectures and recruiting students to join a spontaneous pep rally and street dance in front of Central Hall (now Beardshear Hall). This event lasted for nearly a decade.

In 1949, students took a different approach. On the Thursday night of Homecoming, more than 3,000 students marched on the Knoll, chanting “No School Friday.” President Friley first refused, but finally gave in and granted a special holiday after Friday noon to disperse the mob. He also promised no school on Monday if the football team won the Homecoming game, a deal which remained for the next few years. With the hope of no classes after the weekend, the class break was ultimately forgotten.


The Torchathon began in 1981 when 27 ISU runners relayed a torch from the University of Missouri – that year’s Homecoming rival – to Ames for the Homecoming celebration. Each runner took turns carrying the lighted torch to cover the 260-mile route in 36 hours. The torch was then presented at the pep rally.

The Torchathon was a success and became an annual tradition. Each year runners would make the trek from the Homecoming opponent’s stadium to Jack Trice Stadium, carrying the torch through the tailgating lots and finally presenting it during the pregame festivities on the field. The longest route the Torchathon covered was in 1986, when ISU faced the University of Wyoming. It took 50 runners and five days to carry the torch 800 miles from Laramie, Wyoming, to Ames.

The event soon incorporated a scholarship, with each runner raising $30 in pledges that was distributed by the ISU Agricultural Department to students affected by the farm crisis. ISU’s Torchathon was the longest collegiate marathon of its type in the nation until it died out in the late 1990s.

Pajama Relay
Created in 1940, the Pajama Relay was a popular feature of the annual Homecoming pep rally for more than a decade. Women’s residences competed in the contest, although men were chosen as their representatives to race against each other and scramble into oversized pajamas. “Checked, plaid, polka dot and striped pajamas flashed past the grandstand,” reported the Bomb. “The girls laugh and the men swear at the pajama relays.” Trophies were awarded to the winning sororities and women’s dormitories.

Push Ball
Push Ball began as a campus tradition from 1909 to 1927 between the freshmen and sophomores, and in 1978, the Homecoming Committee revived the event as part of the Homecoming festivities. Men’s and women’s residences paired together to form 12-member teams. During the game, each team converged on the 4-ft diameter, leather-covered ball from the sidelines and worked to push it in the direction of the scoring goal. “A lot of the spectators were wondering whether the ball, as well as the contestants, would survive the ordeal,” reported the Iowa State Daily. The push ball contest was usually held during the pep rally along with the Yell Like Hell finals. It was eliminated a decade later.

Train Wreck
One of the craziest Homecoming traditions was the Great Train Wreck on central campus. Created in 1977, the event consisted of two human trains formed by students holding each other around the waist. One train started at Beardshear Hall and the other at Curtiss Hall. When the campanile bells struck noon, the two groups ran toward each other whistling, and they collided in the middle in a pile-up of bodies. The event lasted roughly five years.

Day in Campustown
Another popular event that began in the late 1970s took Homecoming away from central campus and into Campustown. Bar Night in 1977 offered arm wrestling and beer chugging contests at Grand Daddy’s bar. The next year, a dance contest, the Mr. ISU and Ladies’ Leg competitions, foosball and pool tournaments, and comedy and horror flicks were featured as part of the event. By the early 1980s, Cy and the pom and cheer squads were included in Bar Night, and the purchase of a Homecoming button gave students a discount on bar covers.

The event remained popular until 1988, when it was replaced by “A Day in Campustown,” which allowed students with Homecoming buttons to receive specials and coupons offered by Campustown merchants. In 1995, Bar Night briefly returned and during the “Night on the Town,” students of all ages could pay one cover charge for a variety of Campustown bars. However, the next year, the focus returned to Campustown merchants. “We want to try to limit the association with alcohol,” said Chuck Schleusner, a 1996 Homecoming general co-chair. The tradition continued for a few years.

Homecoming History Timeline

1912 – ISU’s first Homecoming is held.
1914 – The new State Field is finished.
1917 – Iowa State wins its first Homecoming game, defeating Kansas State 10-7.
1918 – Homecoming is cancelled due to World War I and the Spanish influenza.
1924 – The Twisters pep organization makes its debut.
1930 – ISU’s first pep barbeque is held
1931 – The Pi Epsilon Pi pep fraternity introduces the college’s first mascot, a dog named Cy.
1933 – Sally Pucket is named ISU’s first Pep Queen.
1934 – The Homecoming game ends in a 0-0 tie against Kansas.
    – Iowa State has a “double Homecoming” – the official Homecoming game was played against Kansas, but there were more alumni at the Iowa State-Iowa game.        –
1938 – State Field is renamed Clyde Williams Field after former Iowa State head football coach.
        – Loraine Spencer becomes ISU’s first woman cheerleader.
1939 – The Twisters is reestablished as an all-female pep club.
1940 – The Yel-Jax is organized as an all-male pep club.
    – The Pajama Relay is added to the pep rally’s events
1942 – Lawn displays, the class break, and the Homecoming dance are all eliminated due to World War II.
1943 – Women are allowed in the Iowa State marching band.
        – The pep barbeque is cancelled due to World War II.
1946 – The 630 Club, a predecessor to today’s Cyclone Club, is formed after Iowa State loses the Homecoming game to Oklahoma 63-0.
1952 – Gib Stanek is crowned ISU’s first Pep King.
1953 – Meredith Willson, author and composer of “The Music Man,” writes a new Iowa State pep song, "For I For S Forever” and performs it on Homecoming.
        – Students riot for three days after Iowa State upsets Missouri, blockading Lincoln Way and setting fire to lawn displays. The events are covered by national media, including a multiple-page spread in Life magazine.
1954 – Cy the Cardinal makes his debut as ISU’s mascot.
1957 – The Triumph March, a lighted parade, is established.
1959 – Shortly before the game, it is discovered that the 5,000 cardinal and gold cards used for the halftime card section were missing, and the marching band is forced to perform without them. The cards are later found in the east stadium’s rafters, but the thief is never found.
1963 – Yell Like Hell is established.
1965 – Groundbreaking ceremonies for the $13 million Iowa State Center are held during Homecoming.
1967 – Cy secretly married Susie Snapper Hawk from the University of Iowa. Their marriage is short-lived.
1968 – ISU Homecoming Queen Nancy Chase is chosen as the Big Eight Queen of all Queens, a competition between queens representing each of the conference schools.
1972 – Nine flag girls are added to the marching band.
1973 – The Student Alumni Association (SAA) is formed.
        – The Homecoming Queen contest is canceled after student groups complained that it is sexist and irrelevant.
1975 – The new football stadium (now known as Jack Trice Stadium) is opened and dedicated.
        – Elizabeth Thomas becomes the first woman to portray Cy.
1977 – The first annual Homecoming Golf Tournament is held at the Ames Golf Country Club Course.
        – ISU holds its first mass campaniling event during Homecoming.
1978 – A Baby Cy lookalike contest is held for children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
        – Pushball returns to campus as a Homecoming event.
1980 – The first Alumni Band is formed and performs at Homecoming.
1981 – The first Torchathon is held; runners carried a lighted torch 260 miles from Columbia, Missouri, to Ames.
1983 – The football stadium is officially named Cyclone Stadium and Jack Trice Field.
1984        – ISU plays its first night Homecoming football game. Temporary stadium lights are installed by the same company that lighted the 1984 Summer Olympics.
1987 – Randy Sproat becomes the first male member of the ISU Flag Corp.
1988 – ISU revives the Homecoming King and Queen tradition.
1989 – Homecoming becomes a part of the Student Alumni Association.
1993 – The Homecoming Committee designs another mascot, Exo the iguana, who joins Cy at the Homecoming pep rally and bonfire.
1994 – Former men’s head basketball coach Johnny Orr joins the ranks of the ISU Alumni Band to play the coronet.
1996 – Running back Troy Davis rushes for 378 yards against Missouri, which ranks fourth in NCAA FBS history.
1997 – When ISU defeats Baylor, fans rush the field and tear down a goal post, carrying it to Lake LaVerne and throwing it in the water. A dozen people are arrested.
        – The Homecoming court is once again eliminated.
2000 – The Homecoming dance is revived on campus.
2001 – Couples at the annual mass campaniling are disappointed when midnight comes and goes without any campanile bells tolling.
2002 – Quarterback Seneca Wallace zig-zags a total of 135 yards on a 12-yard touchdown run in the Homecoming game against Texas Tech in what would become known as “The Run.”
2006 – The Homecoming royalty tradition is returned once more in the form of the “Cardinal Court” scholarship.

From the archives:

Check out a collection of historic Homecoming images
View a listing of past Homecoming dates/games
NEW! Online Homecoming Exhibit

© 2015 Iowa State University Alumni Association. All rights reserved.