Iowa State University Alumni Association

Homecoming History

How it started
The first Homecoming was proposed in 1912 by Professor Samuel Beyer, Iowa State’s “patron saint of athletics,” and endorsed by President Raymond Pearson, who invited alumni 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 first event was deemed a success, with 152 alumni returning to campus for tours, a play, a football scrimmage, and a pep meeting in Curtiss Auditorium. On Saturday morning before the football game, alumni were invited to a reception and luncheon at Margaret Hall to “get together and talk about old times.”

Traditions: Pep Rally
The first-ever Homecoming “pep barbecue” was held in 1930. It was called “Hamburgers for Homecoming.” During WW2, a shortage of ground meat temporarily changed the event to “Wieners in Wartime.” Today, the Friday night pep rally remains a major Homecoming event. Last year’s was the largest ever, organized in conjunction with “Cytennial” – the university’s 100th Homecoming.

Traditions: Yell Like Hell
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.

Today, the competition is intense and includes many judging criteria – including the incorporation of school spirit, use of ISU colors (usually via body paint), and integrating the Homecoming theme into the chant.

Traditions: Alumni Band
The Alumni Band made its debut in 1980 and has been entertaining fans at halftime of the Homecoming game ever since. An annual reunion of former band members is a strong Homecoming tradition as well.

Traditions: Banner Contest
“Welcome Alumni” banners have been a part of Homecoming since 1912, but a banner contest was not established until the late 1960s. Banners are painted by students on a large cloth sheet in a free-standing, wooden frame and displayed on central campus.

Traditions: Painting Victory Lane
Starting in the 1980s, Iowa Staters have painted “Victory Lane,” a grid of 4ft-by-4ft pavement squares in the Iowa State Center parking lot. Victory Lane was established for the football team, which used to cross the area after winning the Homecoming game. Even though that’s no longer the team’s travel pattern, painting Victory Lane remains a strong Homecoming tradition.

Traditions: Tournaments
For many students, Homecoming activities start a week early. Homecoming tournaments generate fun competition between students in such events as volleyball, treds football, and basketball. This tradition was established in the late 1970s.

Traditions: Lawn Displays
Lawn displays and Homecoming signs have a rich tradition at Iowa State. In preparation for Iowa State’s first Homecoming game vs. Iowa (Nov. 18, 1912), engineering students constructed a 55-foot electric sign with blinking letters that proclaimed, “Beat Iowa, Eat Iowa.” ISU played the University of Iowa in four of the first five Homecomings. Iowa State’s Homecoming lawn display tradition is unique nationally. No other school builds lawn displays of the same magnitude.

Traditions: Honors & Awards
For more than 80 years, the ISU Alumni Association and ISU colleges have recognized outstanding alumni and friends during Homecoming at the Honors & Awards ceremony.

Traditions: Homecoming Royalty
The crowning of Homecoming royalty has been a tradition that has come and gone at ISU. The queen competition had become very complicated by the early 1970s, when it even included a swimsuit contest, and students began to question its relevance. After multiple complaints that the contest was demeaning to women, it was discontinued in 1973. Since 2006, ISU's version of Homecoming royalty has been "Cardinal Court" -- a scholarship program that honors 10 students for academics and community service. The top two students are then named "king and queen.”

Traditions: Cy’s Favorite Alum
Every year during Homecoming, the ISU athletics department presents the award for “Cy’s Favorite Alum.”

Traditions: Homecoming Parade
First held in 1923 and then consistently for about 25 years to follow, Homecoming parades were held sparingly at ISU between 1950-2015. The Homecoming parade tradition has been officially resurrected as of 2016, filling a void that was left by the permanent cancellation of VEISHEA but also bringing greater Homecoming engagement to the Ames community.

It Happened at Homecoming: A Homecoming Timeline

  • Iowa State won its first Homecoming football game in 1917, 10-7 over Kansas State.
  • The 1918 Homecoming celebration was canceled due to an influenza outbreak.
  • Iowa State’s first female cheerleader, Lorraine Spencer, made her debut at Homecoming 1938.
  • During ISU's first wartime Homecoming in 1942, the Homecoming Committee was forced to suspend its annual 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," reported the 1943 Bomb.
  • The 630 Club, a predecessor to today’s Cyclone Club, was formed after Iowa State’s 1946 Homecoming football loss to Oklahoma, 63-0.
  • At Homecoming 1953, author and “The Music Man” composer Meredith Willson introduced a new Iowa State pep song, “For I For S Forever,” which is still popular today.
  • Students rioted for three days following the 1953 Homecoming football upset of Missouri because they wanted a day off of school. The events were covered by the national media, including Life magazine.
  • Homecoming isn’t just a great campus-wide celebration – it’s also Cy’s birthday! Cy made his debut at Homecoming 1954. The cardinal has been ISU’s mascot since that time, but did you know there was an earlier version of Cy? That’s right: A dog named Cy roamed the football sidelines with Iowa State cheerleaders in the 1930s. The dog version of Cy was introduced by Pi Epsilon Pi at Homecoming 1931 and apparently disappeared sometime around 1936.
  • Ground was broken on the Iowa State Center complex at Homecoming 1965.
  • ISU’s pom pon squad made its official debut at Homecoming 1967.
  • Homecoming 1967 is known as the year Cy got married. In a secret ceremony, he tied the knot with the University of Iowa’s Susie Snapper Hawk. Their marriage was short-lived.
  • The new (current) football stadium was dedicated at Homecoming 1975.
  • In 1989, Homecoming became an official program of the Student Alumni Association -- today known as the Student Alumni Leadership Council.
  • In the 1996 Homecoming football game, running back Troy Davis rushed for what was then an NCAA-record 378 yards against Missouri. It remains the fourth-best individual rushing performance in NCAA FBS history.
  • Iowa State won its only football game on the 1997 season at Homecoming, and a dozen revelers were arrested following a celebration that involved tearing down the goalpost and throwing it in Lake LaVerne.
  • The bells of the Campanile failed to toll at midnight of Homecoming 2001, disappointing many eager smoochers waiting beneath it.
  • At Homecoming 2002, quarterback Seneca Wallace (’03 sociology) runs 135 yards on a 12-yard touchdown carry against Texas Tech. The play would become known as “The Run.”
  • Iowa State celebrated its 100th Homecoming – “Cytennial” – in 2012 with the biggest event ever.
  • Current Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell attended ISU Homecoming 2014 as the head coach of the Cyclones' opponent, Toledo, and says the pageantry of the event inspired him to pursue a future as ISU's head coach -- a dream that became reality less than two years later.
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