Whether it’s stealing a competing sports team’s mascot or crowning a homecoming court, some Saint Louis University homecoming traditions are lost to history, and some – like cheer on the Billikens – are here to stay. Listen to the experts explain how one of the University’s favorite traditions has evolved over the years, then share your own homecoming memories.
Football and Hijinks: SLU Homecoming is born
Dating back to the mid-1920s, the homecoming welcomed SLU students and alumni to campus for about a century, according to university archivists. SLU is home to the nation’s first forward pass and homecoming events centered around football matches, as well as regional team rivalries.
One of University Archivist Caitlin Stamm’s favorite stories concerns the homecoming of the SLU football team who travel to the Loyola University Chicago campus to steal their team mascot – a goat. – and smuggle her into St. Louis on a train before hiding her on campus.
“It was in a student’s basement,” Stamm said. “They put it in the showers at the School of Business and Finance and then they tied the goat to the goal post during the game as some kind of big comeback party prank. They really should have focused more on football because they lost.
In those early years, homecoming was always centered around a football game. Then, gradually, dances and gatherings were added, said University Archivist Emeritus John Waide.
“In the 1920s, they’d put an article in the paper a week or two ahead and say, ‘Show up to the game, it’s the homecoming game, and wear a button that says, ‘Hello, Bills! ” and try to sit on the right side,” Stamm added. “So it wasn’t the formal event we’re thinking of.”
In the 1930s, Stamm said, as many as 11,000 fans would show up for the game.
Homecoming Courts and Parades: Postwar Homecoming Traditions
Just as back to basics gained momentum as a tradition, SLU – and the world – changed. Stamm and Waide believe reunion celebrations were suspended in the early 1940s during World War II.
“There are no yearbooks for 1944, ’42, ’43 and ’44,” Waide said. “I think they started again in 1945. So obviously the war had a huge effect.
There were far fewer men on campus. And, in the 1950s, no football either. SLU’s last official football season dates back to 1949.
SLU’s first post-war homecoming was in 1946 and featured a parade for the first time, along with bonfires, dancing and more pranks.
“There was real excitement on campus about moving after the war, coming back to campus,” Stamm said.
In the 1950s, the election of return courts, including queens and kings, became the focus of return, she added. Campus groups fielded candidates and students campaigned for honors. Parades typically moved up and down West Pine Boulevard, Waide said, while others roamed the streets of downtown St Louis.
And, instead of a football team, reunion attendees were now cheering on Billiken men’s basketball.
More in the mood to party
In 1969 Waide was on campus as a student. He remembers the “Miss Saint Louis University pageant” and a brief resurgence in football when the club’s team was introduced in the fall. A Founder’s Week that began in the 1950s has continued to be held, sometimes in connection with back-to-basics, sometimes not. Whether centered on basketball or football, however, the celebration began to lose its appeal to college students in the late 60s and 70s.
“You have to remember that we are talking, in some ways, about the middle of the Vietnamese conflict,” Waide said. “And so things like homecoming and dances certainly didn’t seem important or had the same appeal, I think, to students as a few years ago.”
Coming home took about 15 years, Stamm said. In 1988, SLU students started asking for more fun activities and events, and that’s when homecoming dances and events came back.
From the 1990s to today
So when did homecoming start looking like the event we see at SLU today? In the late 90s, a shift began, away from basketball to celebrate homecoming with a football game and campus get-togethers, especially the 50-year-old Golden Billikens.
The annual fireworks display, a crowd favorite, began in 1999, and other events like campus tours, Grand Center open houses, and the golf cart parade began in the early 1990s. 2000. Parents’ Weekend combined with Homecoming in 2004, creating what is now known as Reunion and Family Weekend.
Through all the changes, however, the core connectivity and pride of being a central part of Billiken for SLU remains the same.
“We have the connection to homecoming not only as alumni returning to alma mater, but also parents of current students coming to celebrate everyone,” Waide said.
Ready to make new homecoming memories? Register for SLU’s 2022 Homecoming and Family Weekend
This article was adapted from a 2020 webinar. Interested in learning more? Watch “SLU’s Homecoming Tradition” on YouTube.