Homecoming traditions have come and gone (Synchronized swimmers? Bring your weight in firewood?), but since 1916, Gator spirit has always won the day.
Homecomings are a cherished tradition at schools throughout the nation. The origins of the homecoming tradition are hotly debated, but the first homecoming celebrations in the United States were held sometime around 1910.
UF’s first Homecoming occurred in 1916 and was organized by the UF Alumni Association. Two hundred “old grads” arrived to cheer on the alma mater in a contest with Alabama on October 21. Festivities began the night before with a bonfire rally on the football field. The game was preceded by a parade led by the University Band and featuring the entire student body, the 200 alumni and 100 automobiles decked in orange and blue streamers. The Crimson Tide’s victory over the Gators was the day’s only disappointment.
Homecomings were held sporadically after 1916. The 1923 Homecoming saw the creation of Blue Key, now Florida Blue Key. The Knights of the Blue Key, as its members were called, were sworn to serve the university in any way possible but were given the specific task of entertaining visitors. Blue Key was given full responsibility for homecoming events the following year, and all Homecomings since 1924 have been student organized and produced.
The Homecoming Pep Rally became Gator Growl in 1932 and was held in the stadium until it was recently relocated to the band shell at Flavet Field. The first themed Homecoming Parade with floats and marching bands took place in 1948 on the Friday before the Homecoming game. The parade is now as much a local event as it is a university one, with thousands of children lining the parade route and hundreds more marching in the parade or riding on floats.
Several homecoming events have passed into oblivion while others linger on. In the early days, freshmen brought their body weight in combustible materials for a Growl bonfire. The bonfire disappeared in the 1950s. The homecoming house decorations that festoon lawns and porches at the Greek houses today do not quite match the splendor of earlier years. One of the more unusual homecoming events of the past were the Swimcapades, an aquatic ballet involving synchronized swimmers, divers and poolside dancers. The Swimcapades were introduced in 1948, shortly after the university became coeducational in 1947. The women’s Swim Fins and their male counterparts, the Aqua Gators, were the principal performers. Due to limited seating at the Florida Pool, three performances were held, one before Gator Growl and two on Saturday morning. The last Swimcapade occurred at the 1965 Homecoming.
There was a homecoming hiatus at the height of World War II in 1944, when college football was simply not feasible. This year, football seems feasible, but crowded venues are not, so homecoming events will be virtual. The theme? The Gator Still Growls.
All photos courtesy of University Florida Archives, George A. Smathers Libraries