A history of Homecomings weekend

Looking back at a long-running University tradition

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The Cavalier Daily reported that the Homecoming Committee received a seven-shaped piñata containing a monetary donation in October 2003.

Cavalier Daily Archives

Alumni homecoming dates back to the late 1930s and has typically been scheduled around a home football game. However, the activities associated with Homecoming week have evolved over time.

The early years

The first Homecoming weekend reported by The Cavalier Daily (then known as College Topics) is Sept. 30, 1938, although the tradition likely dates back further.

“We have had homecoming as a weekend event probably since the late 30’s, but in fact there were traditionally four big alumni weekends at the University of Virginia,” said Wayne Cozart, vice president for Development of the University Alumni Association.

According to an article published in the 1938 edition of College Topics, Homecoming weekend was celebrated with informal entertainment and an open house at Alumni Hall prior to kickoff — similar to this year’s pregame Cavalier Countdown Tailgate, also to be hosted at Alumni Hall.

“University of Virginia alumni have been invited to an open house which will be held at Alumni hall here Saturday before and after the football game between Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia” the article said.

By 1939, Homecomings had evolved to include special events such as a pep rally and a series of galas for the entertainment of students and returning alumni, in addition to the traditional Alumni Hall reception. In fact, according to an article published by College Topics this Homecoming weekend was anticipated as “one of the most successful homecomings ever staged.”

“Confident of victory over the visitors an opportunity will be provided for those needing expression in the form of cheers and vocal encouragement for the team” the Oct. 13, 1939 edition of The Cavalier Daily stated. “Naturally the alumni are invited to the pep rally and if they are still up to par they will march in the parade which will proceed from the Corner, move up Madison Lane, down Chancellor Street, along Rugby Road past the Library and into Cabell Hall.”

Homecomings revitalized

Homecomings was a well established tradition in the late 1930s and well into the 1960s. But by the time Cozart assumed his position within the Alumni Association, the traditions and celebrations associated with Homecoming weekend had faded.

“When I came here in 1979, although there was a homecoming there really wasn’t anything going on at all,” Cozart said. “There were no activities other than just calling it homecoming and [using it as] a way to sell football tickets.”

In 2002, a group of students and Wayne Cozart co-lead an effort to reinstate the tradition. This effort was formalized by a subcommittee of Student Council titled the Homecomings Committee, and at this point “Homecoming” weekend was renamed “Homecomings” weekend.

Their endeavor was successful largely because of a monetary donation of $10,777.77 from the Seven Society. The committee had written the society for funds in hope of creating stronger student-alumni relations as well as a revitalized sense of school spirit. The letter was left at the foot of the Jefferson Statue inside the Rotunda.

According to the Oct. 2, 2003 edition of The Cavalier Daily, “Student Council member Rory Francisco received an email instructing Student Council to go to a room in Newcomb Hall [September 30, 2003], where they found a wire and a papier mâché piñata in the shape of a seven hanging from a light fixture.”

Inside the piñata was an announcement of the donation.

The money was intended to “aid with the cost of planning and producing Friday night’s activities for current students and young alumni,” the letter said.

With the help of the Seven Society’s donation, the Homecomings Committee hosted a variety of events, most notably a headlining performance by musical group and then-popstar Sister Hazel the night before the Cavalier’s face-off against Troy State.

“[The Homecomings] Committee aims to attract largest crowd since 1960s for weekend events Oct. 24-25, including free festivities” the Oct. 17, 2003 edition of The Cavalier Daily stated.

The Friday night event was hosted by the University Programs Council, Student Council, Alumni Hall, the Athletics Department, Inter-Fraternity Council, Inter-Sorority Council, the Office of the Dean of Students, and the class councils co-hosted the events, officially known as Homecomings 2003.

Maintaining a historic tradition

Since Homecomings began, various student groups have worked to ensure that it becomes a high-profile tradition. To accomplish this, academic, athletic, social, and student organization-oriented events have become associated with Homecomings. Such events include the Young Alumni Reunion event, Pancakes for Parkinson’s, the Relay for Life Fight Cancer 5K, and school-oriented tailgates.

Additionally, the Homecomings Committee became a CIO independent of Student Council in 2012, rather than a joint effort between University Programs Council, Student Council, and the Alumni Association.

Fourth-year Curry student Logan Dickinson, current chair of the Homecomings Committee, said since the committee’s formalization, they have implemented the Greek life competition, first year competitions, and various other associated events.

Homecomings-related events are largely funded by the Alumni reunions department, student life, several locations on the corner, and stadium clean-up events.

“Having a formalized committee has really impacted our success,” Dickinson said. “It’s helpful to have one central board to look to — they can build a master calendar, provide easier coordination and organization, and can make sure [the] week goes smoothly.”

Both Cozart and Dickinson are hopeful that the re-vamped Homecomings tradition will become integrated into University life.

“It is a relatively new weekend for the University, and I’m excited to see where the weekend is going with as many alumni coming back and as many student activities going on,” Cozart said.

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