North Texas Daily

UNT’s Homecoming history rooted in tradition

UNT’s Homecoming history rooted in tradition

UNT’s Homecoming history rooted in tradition
November 07
14:56 2013

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

Willis Library’s archives and rare books department keeps, among other things, the invitation to UNT’s first homecoming.

It was held in May 1927 on a Saturday with commencement scheduled the next day to celebrate the 37th anniversary of North Texas Teachers College’s establishment. The school put on a one-day event for “ex-students” with two hours of reminiscences, a barbecue and a dinner.

UNT’s homecoming celebration didn’t center on a football game until the 1930s. By the late 1940s, UNT Homecoming found its legs as a three-day celebration that featured the parade, a football game and of course the bonfire. Over the years, the school has continued to develop its alumni celebration, adding events such as Yell Like Hell and Chalk the Campus Green.

Associate sociology professor Gabe Ignatow looked back to Émile Durkheim, considered the father of sociology, who said collective rituals help bind a community together.

“We can have a lot in common with people from our generation who are otherwise very different from us,” Ignatow said.

By the late ‘40s, UNT had established a routine that has remained largely unchanged. Greek students hold open houses, some years all day long. Clubs reunite at local coffee shops. Homecoming Saturday is always headlined by a parade, a football game and usually a barbecue before or afterward.

The bonfire, perhaps UNT’s most recognizable homecoming celebration, was an idea first developed long before UNT started celebrating alumni. The first bonfires were lit by Texas A&M and Baylor University in the early 1900s.

Geography senior and Talons bonfire head Jerrilyn Elliot said UNT’s first bonfire was in 1935 before a 30-6 win over East Texas State University. Elliot said it was initially an activity for all students, but the spirit organization Talons took it over in 1960.

“The bonfire used to be just this giant slump of extra wood,” she said. “Now it’s 25 to 30 feet tall.”

Outside of a three-year hiatus from all Homecoming activity during World War II, and three more years when it was cancelled due to a burn ban, the bonfire has burned bright ever since.

“The bigger the bonfire, the happier the students,” Elliot said. “Over the past few years, the football team has had some problems, but the bonfire has always been a reason for students to come together. It connects the campus.”

The Yell Like Hell event, now an annual institution, also brings out school spirit. It is first mentioned in the 1970s as being held by the Progressive Black Student Organization. PBSO is still responsible for the event. Undeclared business junior Devin Carter, the organization’s current president, said he didn’t remember how the event got started but it wasn’t originally tied to homecoming.

“I’m not sure exactly when it started or how the idea came about,” he said. “It kind of got incorporated into homecoming week, and it became something that students expect every year.”

The event pits student organizations in a competition of skits appropriate to the year’s theme. This year’s event was held Tuesday night. The top skits will be repeated at the bonfire on Friday, where the winner will be announced.

“It’s one of those big things that most organizations don’t get to do,” Carter said. “We take a lot of pride in that it’s part of Homecoming and no organization gets to do anything like this.”

After 86 years, UNT continues to develop new traditions. The Chalk the Campus Green event, for instance, just started last year. Applied behavior analysis master’s student Tracy Frier serves as student services coordinator for the associate vice president of student affairs, but last year she was the coordinator for campus-wide events and traditions. The chalk event was her way of both bringing the campus closer and reigniting an old tradition.

“When I was a student here and I lived in the residence halls, we used to chalk in front of the halls,” she said. “I think they kind of banned chalking on campus, so we didn’t do it for many, many years. We decided to bring it back, but have it be a little different and more structured.”

Greek students, residence hall associations and other student groups registered and got their own panel of sidewalk to chalk with UNT spirit. The second iteration of the event, which took place Sunday, saw more than 50 packs of chalk decorate the pavement.

Alpha Delta Pi student and mathematics sophomore Diana Rodriguez said the decorations give the campus a whole new flavor.

“You can’t walk through the library mall now and not know it’s Homecoming,” she said.

Feature photo: Crowd of UNT students stands beneath a homecoming banner to watch the bonfire festivities in 1960. Photo courtesy of UNT Digital Library. 

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