Mizzou isn't king of homecoming? Baylor stakes its claim

2011-10-10T00:22:00Z 2012-01-25T09:00:35Z Mizzou isn't king of homecoming? Baylor stakes its claimBY TIM BARKER • tbarker@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8350 stltoday.com

For a long time, it has been widely believed that homecoming was invented 100 years ago at the University of Missouri-Columbia, when athletic director Chester Brewer urged alumni to "come home" for a football game against Kansas.

The claims are all over the Internet. The board game Trivial Pursuit says it's so. As does the television game show "Jeopardy!" Or so the campus tour guides will tell you.

And just last week, an episode of the crime show "NCIS" featured a discussion about the U.S. tradition's origins. The only school mentioned was Mizzou.

Folks in Columbia loved it.

But you could almost hear the sighs of exasperation all the way from Texas, where another school believes it started the whole thing a good two years before Mizzou.

"At first, I thought it was a joke. That someone at the University of Missouri had put it together," said Scott Neumann, two-time chairman of the homecoming parade at Baylor University, after watching a short clip from the TV show.

Alas, it was just another in a long string of unintended slights faced by the private school in Waco, whose claims center on a 1909 "Home-Coming" event featuring a football game, a gathering of alumni, a parade and a pep rally — the classic elements of today's homecoming celebrations.

So how does Mizzou get credit for something Baylor did first?

"We were a pretty small school. They probably told their story better and more often than we did," said Lois Ferguson, assistant to the Office of the Provost for Commencement and Events at Baylor.

There's that. And then there's the fact that Baylor's 1909 event wasn't actually repeated until 1915. By then, the idea of homecoming had already caught on with Mizzou, Indiana University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Historians and alumni association officials at the various schools put a lot of the blame on the difficulties of documenting events that happened 100 or more years ago. And it's clear that the Internet — and its ability to spread false information — has played a role.

Such is the case with oft-cited reports that the National Collegiate Athletic Association gives credit to Missouri. That's not true. At least not today.

Ellen Summers, an NCAA librarian, said the organization gets the question annually. And after extensive research, "I cannot find any specific mention of the NCAA sanctioning the 1911 Missouri game as the first homecoming," Summers wrote in an email.

That could lead a person to wonder whether "Jeopardy!" and Trivial Pursuit really do support Missouri in this affair. Neither organization responded to inquiries.

Officially, the school is taking a muted stand on the issue as it heads into its 100th anniversary celebration next weekend. The school's alumni association acknowledged the controversy in its recent Mizzou magazine, with an article: "Did Mizzou really invent Homecoming?"

In the end, officials stop well short of claiming founder status. At the same time, the school doesn't appear ready to yield the title outright.

"I don't know if anyone knows who had the first homecoming," said Todd McCubbin, executive director of the Mizzou Alumni Association.

But with so much debate over the matter, he said, the school tries not to make official claims about being first.

"'Birthplace of the homecoming tradition' is about as controversial as we get," McCubbin said.

It's a distinction based on the fact that Mizzou stuck with the homecoming idea from the start — rather than coming back to it six years later as Baylor did.

Mizzou isn't, however, the first school that has been forced to confront Baylor's claim. Not even the first school in the region.

In fact, the research supporting Baylor's claim was provided by the University of Illinois, which also once thought it was the tradition's originator, based on a 1910 celebration.

A few years ago, researchers at U of I decided to test the school's claim. It was, after all, being prominently displayed on the school's website, said Ellen Swain, an archivist for student life and culture at the school.

"We decided we couldn't say that any more unless we could prove it," Swain said.

They couldn't.

After looking at a variety of turn-of-the-century events put on by Illinois, Mizzou, Indiana and the University of Michigan, they concluded that Baylor deserved the recognition.

There was disappointment on campus. Maybe even some wounded pride.

Gone from the website are claims about being first. They have been replaced by a more subdued proclamation about having one of the longest-running traditions.

"It's not quite as powerful," Swain said. "But it is more accurate."


EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect spelling for Chester Brewer. This version has been corrected.

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