A Cytennial Homecoming Celebration

In 1912, ISU was an agricultural college with 1,830 students. The campus roads were still unpaved, Lake LaVerne was just a marsh, and Curtiss Hall was brand new. In 1912, ISU also celebrated its first Homecoming, an event that would become an integral part of the university during the next century.

The idea was first proposed by Professor Samuel Beyer (1889 LAS), the college’s “patron saint of athletics,” who suggested that Iowa State inaugurate a celebration for alumni during the annual football game against rival University of Iowa. Iowa State’s new president, Raymond A. Pearson, liked the idea and issued a special invitation to alumni two weeks prior to the event: “We need you; we must have you. Come and see what a school you have made in Iowa State College. Find a way.”

The response was greater than Pearson expected. A reported 152 alumni returned to campus, where they enjoyed tours of campus buildings, a play homecoming_buttonpresented by the sophomores, and a football scrimmage between the freshmen and reserves. Classes were cancelled on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and a “pep meeting” was held in Curtiss Auditorium that featured songs, cheers, and a debate. On Saturday morning, the alumni were invited to a reception and luncheon at Margaret Hall to “get together and talk about old times.”

But the main event of the weekend was the football game, which was played at State Field. Although the Cyclones lost 21-7, students and alumni celebrated that night in festivities that were destined to “light up the sky for miles around, shake the stars in their beds, and make the imps below fearful for the strength of the earth’s crust.”

Homecoming 1912 was deemed a success, and plans for the next year’s festivities began almost immediately. Professor Beyer said, “We hope to make the custom so popular that in future years the number who come back will go far up into the hundreds.”

Beyer’s wish came true. As ISU evolved during the next 100 years, so did Homecoming. The celebration’s history is filled with pep rallies, parades, contests, and even riots as the ISU community has come together each year to celebrate alumni, the university, and, of course, football.

The tradition begins
The Cyclone football team has a 37-56-6 Homecoming record, with its longest winning streak standing at three games (1926-1928 and 1976-1978). ISU has defeated Baylor, this year’s Homecoming rival, every time the two teams have met during Homecoming.

Perhaps the least notable Homecoming was in 1918 – because there wasn’t one. The Spanish influenza epidemic struck campus that fall and forced the football program to cancel the remainder of its season.

You might say the lost Homecoming was made up in 1934, the year of two Homecomings. Although the official Homecoming game was played against Kansas, there were more alumni at the Iowa State-University of Iowa game, and it was considered a second Homecoming by the students and visitors.

The 1953 Homecoming was one of the most famous in school history. After the Cyclones upset Missouri 13-6, students marched to President James Hilton’s front lawn and demanded, “No school Monday.” When the students realized he wasn’t home, they staged a sit-down on Lincoln Way (then U.S. Highway 30). The crowd also dragged Homecoming lawn displays into the street and set them on fire.

Police from Ames and several surrounding towns resorted to using clubs and tear gas, but the crowd fought back with eggs, rocks, and pumpkins. Students reluctantly went to classes on Monday but returned to the Knoll again that night, shouting, “We want Tuesday off.” President Hilton (’23 animal husbandry) promised to consider the idea after the next win, to which the crowd responded, “We may not win another game.” They returned to rioting and barricading the highway, but eventually the mob dispersed. The riots were picked up by national news sources such as The Los Angeles Times and Life. The chief of police, Orville Erickson, told Life, “They don’t seem to be angry as much as just plain nuts.”

A second riot occurred during Homecoming 1997, when ISU beat Baylor 24-17 and ended a 13-game losing streak. Hundreds of people rushed onto the field and brought down a goal post, which was then paraded to Lake LaVerne. The mob threw the goal post into the lake, along with a stop sign, the swan-crossing sign, a dumpster, a light post, and barricades. A dozen people were arrested and a few were injured in the celebration. Special equipment was required to pull the objects out of Lake LaVerne, and it cost thousands of dollars to replace the goal post at Jack Trice Stadium.

homecoming_senecaWhile memorable, these events are only part of Homecoming’s rich history. Iowa Staters remember many highlights, including the birth of Cy the mascot, the dissolution and later revival of the Homecoming Queen, and Seneca Wallace’s famous play, “The Run.”

Homecoming is about more than just upsets and defeats. It is a celebration of the university’s past and present, its students, and its alumni. Homecoming is a time to reminisce about college days, meet with old friends, and see the transformations on campus. And while Homecoming at ISU is turning 100 years old, it continues to symbolize all these things and serve the purpose that Professor Beyer envisioned back in 1912.

It’s a Tradition

From bonfire to body paint, train wreck to torchathon, traditions define 100 years of Iowa State Homecoming

Although many ISU Homecoming traditions have come and gone during the past century, one event that has remained since the beginning is lawn displays.

homecomingtraditions_lawndisplaysIn preparation for ISU’s first Homecoming, engineering students constructed
an electric sign on Engineering Hall that measured 55 feet long and 20 feet high. At night the sign’s letters blinked on and off, proclaiming “Beat Iowa, Eat Iowa.”

In the years that followed, signs were a popular decoration for Homecoming. Displays moved to the lawns of campus residences in the early 1920s, and soon a contest was established between the houses. By the 1930s, the displays began to evolve from banners and crepe paper to more complex, three-dimensional structures.

Following World War II, displays began to incorporate mechanical features, and the displays attracted crowds of students, alumni, and community members who walked or drove through the area to admire the decorations.

By the 1970s, popularity in lawn displays began to decrease. The year 1976 saw a short revival of lawn display enthusiasm, as 26 participants entered the contest to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial-themed “ISUSA” Homecoming. The surge was short-lived, however, and the competition decreased again in the early 1980s. Homecoming 1982 became the second year in school history – the first since 1942 – with no lawn displays, as Greek houses devoted themselves to community service instead.

It would take one fraternity to bring back the tradition. In 1984, Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity paired with Gamma Phi Beta sorority to build a lawn display. The following year, more Greek residences entered the competition, and the tradition was officially reestablished at ISU.

The lawn display contest has continued to evolve during the past two decades. Skits that accompany the display presentations have become more elaborate. Tours through the Greek community were formed for Ames residents and alumni, an event that evolved into today’s “ExCYtement in the Streets.”


“Welcome Alumni” banners have been a part of Homecoming since 1912, but a banner contest was not established until the late 1960s. A banner is a large cloth sheet in a free-standing, wooden frame that students decorate using the Homecoming theme.

When lawn display popularity declined in the early 1970s, so did the banner contest. However, with the elimination of the lawn displays in 1982, banners grew as the only Homecoming decoration competition. The banners were moved from central campus to the lawns of the Greek houses, “hopefully to appease those alumni who miss the traffic jams and large crowds once attracted to the Greek system by the displays,” reported the Bomb. As lawn displays returned, banners were moved to outside the football stadium, and then back to central campus.


Starting in the 1980s, Victory Lane has been another decorating opportunity for Iowa Staters. Located in the parking lot north of Jack Trice Stadium, students paint a 4-ft by 4-ft pavement square to demonstrate Homecoming spirit. Participants include various organizations such as residence halls, Greek houses, and campus clubs.

Victory Lane was established for the ISU football team, which traditionally crossed over the area after winning the Homecoming game. Since remodeling the stadium, however, the team no longer goes over the decorated strip. Nevertheless, Painting Victory Lane remains a tradition.


Nothing fires up Cyclone fans before the big Homecoming game like the annual pep rally. In 1912, students held the first Homecoming pep meeting in Curtiss Auditorium, where it was predicted that “battle speeches will be made and battle songs sung, and the yells will raise the dead.” The pep rally became a mainstay of Homecoming and was soon accompanied by a large bonfire.

Homecoming 1930 saw ISU’s first pep barbecue. Named “Hamburgers for Homecoming,” the event provided meals to 3,000 students. The barbecue marked the first time since the burning of Old Main that the entire campus ate as one group.

The pep rally, barbecue, and bonfire were all part of Homecoming during the next decade, feeding the hungry mob of “bean eaters” and providing entertainment such as the men’s quartet, cheerleader performances, and pajama relays. Local bands provided music, and the Cyclone football captains and coaches fired up the crowd. Beginning in 1933, the pep rally and barbecue was also the setting for the Homecoming Queen’s coronation.

A shortage of ground meat during World War II changed the slogan from “Hamburgers for Homecoming” to “Wieners in Wartime.”

In the 1960s, the rally began to include a fireworks display, and in the 1970s, Yell Like Hell finals were added to the event. Pep rallies of the 1980s often included jugglers, hot air balloon rides, the Iowa State Rodeo, and even a Mr. Legs contest featuring the ISU football team. In 1977, “mass campaniling” was added to the pep rally, enabling hundreds of couples to become co-eds at the stroke of midnight while the marching band played the ISU Fight Song and fireworks lit up the sky.

The bonfire disappeared in the mid-1960s and the pep barbecue was eliminated in 1970. Both events resurfaced in 1975 at the request of alumni. The bonfire made sporadic appearances during Homecoming throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The pregame meal tradition continues today as the Cyclone Central tailgate that takes place in the ISU Alumni Center before each home game.

The Homecoming Queen has played a traditional – and at times controversial – role in ISU’s Homecoming throughout the years. Although most records claim 1934 as the year of ISU’s first Homecoming Queen, the Bomb reported that one year earlier Sally Pucket, “a very pretty top heroine,” was crowned as the 1933 Pep Queen. According to the Bomb, “Queen Sally” won the hearts of many local business people, who gave her the keys to the city to reign over for one evening.

homecomingtraditions_kingandqueenThe queen generally held responsibilities that included presenting the prizes for lawn displays and appearing at Homecoming events such as the pep barbecue, pep rally, and parade. She was also introduced to the Homecoming crowd at halftime of the football game.

In 1952, Gib Stanek (’54 ag) was crowned the first Pep King at Iowa State, and he joined Pep Queen Sue Moore (’55 science) in reigning over the Homecoming festivities. The Pep King’s reign was brief, however; the role was eliminated the following year.

Beginning in the late 1950s, the queen contest became more complex, including
a style show, various interviews, and formal teas with the judges. By the 1970s, the contest also included a swimsuit competition, and student groups on campus began to question the relevancy of the queen; they claimed the contest was demeaning to women. The Homecoming Committee discontinued the tradition after 1973.

ISU had 16 Homecomings with no queen, until the tradition was reinstated in 1988. A Homecoming King and Queen were selected based on grades, activities, and community service. Controversy resurfaced in 1997, however, when an evaluation committee determined that the Homecoming court did not encompass the diversity of the student body.

In 2006, the tradition returned. Under the direction of the Student Alumni Leadership Council, the “Cardinal Court” scholarship was established. Today, 10 students are selected to Cardinal Court based on academic achievements and community service, and the top two students preside as King and Queen.


Homecoming involves many events throughout the week, but the most important is the big football game on Saturday. Many groups are responsible for the gameday enthusiasm and spirit at Jack Trice Stadium, including the ISU Cyclone Football “Varsity” Marching Band, mascot squad, cheer squads, and dance teams.

The marching band and cheerleaders have been a part of ISU since Homecoming began. In 1912, the Bomb listed a “Yell Leader,” a male student who led the crowd in cheering for the team. During the next few years, that role would expand to a squad of two or three cheerleaders. The A-M-E-S Quartet, organized in 1915, also entertained the crowds.

In 1924, the “Twisters,” a chapter of the men’s honorary pep organization Pi Epsilon Pi, was formed to assist the cheerleaders and “instill the ‘Fight Ames Fight’ spirit into the student body.”

In 1938, Loraine Spencer became ISU’s first female cheerleader. Women also joined the marching band ranks in 1943, although the band would remain largely male until the 1970s.

The Twisters were reorganized on campus in 1939 as a female pep club and was accompanied in 1940 by Iowa State’s male pep club, the Yellow Jackets or “Yel-Jax.”

The marching band was also growing. With shiny new uniforms, baton twirlers,
and more advanced moving field formations, the 1953 Bomb claimed, “No one left the stands during halftimes of football games this year.” That same year, Meredith Willson, author and composer of “The Music Man,” wrote a new Iowa State pep song, “For I For S Forever,” and performed it at halftime of the Homecoming game.

1954 was another major year for the Cyclones as Cy the cardinal mascot made
his debut. The 8-foot cardinal was introduced during the 1954 Homecoming.

ISU’s Pom Squad was established in 1967, comprised of 10 “Pom Pon Girls” who entertained crowds with choreographed dances. Flag girls were also added
to the marching band in 1972, and the cheer squad, Pom Pon girls, and Pep Council were incorporated with the band’s halftime performance.

In 1980, the Alumni Band was created. Today, roughly 200 former ISU marching band members return to perform at halftime of the Homecoming game each year.

For many students, Homecoming activities start a week early. Homecoming tournaments, held the week before Homecoming, generate fun competition between students with events such as volleyball, treds football (a combination of flag football and ultimate Frisbee), and basketball.

Athletics events have been a part of Homecoming since its beginning, when the freshmen played the reserve team in a football game to entertain returning alumni. Over the years, competitions such as pushball, arm wrestling, and powder puff football games have been included the festivities.

However, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that athletic tournaments became an integral part of the celebration. In 1979, the Friday of Homecoming was deemed “Thank God It’s Cy Day,” and part of the event included “novelty athletics” such as pushball, weightlifting, and tug-of-war.

Tournaments have grown to involve other activities, including bowling, mud volleyball, pool, darts, flag football, pie-and ice-cream-eating contests, foosball, badminton, and races.


Yell Like Hell was established in 1963, when residences were invited to submit “an original yell” that was judged on enthusiasm, originality, and appropriateness. The five finalists presented their yells again at the Homecoming pep rally.

During the initial years, the competition consisted of a 10-minute skit, a poetry reading, and a small cheer. Performances transformed from a simple yell to reciting the ISU Fight Song, and by the mid-1970s they had developed into short skits that involved ISU superstitions, campus build-ings, or football rivalries.

In the late 1980s, categories such as “demonstration of school spirit” and “use of ISU colors” were added to the judging criteria, which eventually led to the tradition of covering participants’ bodies from head to toe in cardinal and gold paint.

A new improvisation category was added to the Yell Like Hell competition in 2001, in which teams were given a word prior to the performance and judged on how well they integrated that word into their skits. A stomp also became part of the skit that involved clapping, thigh-slapping, and stepping combinations.

Today, Yell Like Hell features multiple chants and the ISU Fight Song, accompanied by choreography. The final round of Yell Like Hell is held at the Friday night pep rally.

Traditions Lost

How many of these Homecoming traditions do YOU remember?


The all-university Homecoming dance is one of ISU’s most festive traditions.

The first “Fall Gala” dance was held in 1912 and became an annual tradition. In
the 1930s, the Homecoming dance was sponsored by the Pep Club. Held in the Armory the Friday of Homecoming, more than 4,000 students danced to a live band, and the Homecoming Queen and lawn display winners were announced during intermission.

Following World War II, the dance became so popular that two pep dances were held in the Memorial Union on both the Friday and Saturday evenings of Homecoming.

The 1950 Homecoming dance featured famed Louis Armstrong and his all-star band. Other guest musicians over the years included Frankie Masters, Buddy Morrow, and Glenn Miller.

The Homecoming dance remained part of the festivities through the 1960s and 1970s, although its popularity slowly decreased as the Homecoming concert attracted more and more students each year. The Fall Gala was officially eliminated in 1972.

In 2000, students reinitiated the Fall Gala. The semi-formal dance was held in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union after the Homecoming game, featuring live music and free Latin dance lessons. The event was popular for a few years but has since disappeared.


VEISHEA isn’t the only ISU celebration that has featured a parade. The Homecoming parade was one of the earliest Homecoming events and was part of the festivities throughout the past century.

The first “stunt parades” in the 1920s included horses, mules, and wagons with decorative signs and costumes. By 1926, the parade had been transformed into a competition with prizes for the best float.

In the mid-1950s, a new form of the parade – the Scrap Heap Scramble – was introduced. Men’s residences and other campus groups built cars made from scraps. Sometimes it was doubtful whether some of the scrap heaps would hold together long enough to finish the trek.

In 1957 the parade made another transformation. Known as the Triumph March, the parade followed a path across campus to the traditional pep rally.

Although the Triumph March was only successful for a few years, it later evolved into the popular “snake dance.” The snake dance was formed by students holding on to each other around the waist. Led by Cy and the cheerleaders, the parade made its way past residence halls and campus buildings, picking up more students on the way and ending at the pep rally on central campus.

When ISU’s president cancelled classes on the Friday and Saturday of the college’s first Homecoming, he inadvertently began a trend in which future students wanted a class dismissal for the annual celebration.

In the 1930s, students decided to take action on their own with a “class break.” Led by an impromptu band, a group stormed into classrooms, disrupting lectures and recruiting students to join a spontaneous pep rally and street dance.

In 1949, students took a different approach. On the Thursday night of Homecoming, more than 3,000 students marched on the Knoll, chanting “No School Friday.” President Friley first refused, but finally gave in and granted a special holiday after Friday noon to disperse the mob. He also promised no school on Monday if the football team won the Homecoming game, a deal that remained for the next few years.

The Torchathon began in 1981 when 27 ISU runners relayed a torch from the University of Missouri – that year’s Homecoming rival – to Ames for the Homecoming celebration. Each runner took turns carrying the lighted torch to cover the 260-mile route in 36 hours.

The Torchathon became an annual tradition. Each year runners would make the trek from the Homecoming opponent’s stadium to ISU’s stadium, carrying the torch through the tailgating lots and finally presenting it during the pregame festivities on the field.


Created in 1940, the Pajama Relay was a popular feature of the annual Homecoming pep rally for more than a decade. Women’s residences competed in the contest, although men were chosen as their representatives to race against each other and scramble into oversized pajamas.


Push ball began as a campus tradition from 1909 to 1927 between the freshmen and sophomores. In 1978 the Homecoming Committee revived the event as part of Homecoming festivities. During the game, each team converged on the 4-ft diameter, leather-covered ball from the sidelines and worked to push it in the direction of the scoring goal. The push ball contest was usually held during the pep rally along with the Yell Like Hell finals. It was eliminated a decade later.

One of the craziest Homecoming traditions was the Great Train Wreck on central campus. Created in 1977, the event consisted of two human trains formed by students holding each other around the waist. One train started at Beardshear Hall and the other at Curtiss Hall. When the campanile bells struck noon, the two groups ran toward each other whistling, and they collided in the middle in a pile-up of bodies. The event lasted roughly five years.

Another popular event that began in the late 1970s took Homecoming away from central campus and into Campustown. Bar Night in 1977 offered arm wrestling and beer-chugging contests at Grand Daddy’s bar. The next year, a dance contest, the Mr. ISU and Ladies’ Leg competitions, foosball and pool tournaments, and comedy and horror flicks were featured as part of the event. By the early 1980s, Cy and the pom and cheer squads were included in Bar Night, and the purchase of a Homecoming button gave students a discount on bar covers.

The event remained popular until 1988, when it was replaced by “A Day in Campustown,” which allowed students with Homecoming buttons to receive specials and coupons offered by Campustown merchants. In 1995, Bar Night briefly returned and during the “Night on the Town,” students of all ages could pay one cover charge for a variety of Campustown bars.

Come home for Iowa State’s Cytennial Homecoming


2012 Homecoming Central Committee co-chairs Morgan Foldes and Alicia Snyder

Iowa State’s centennial Homecoming is fast approaching. New activities, along with traditional events, will make this year’s celebration one to remember.

“Our vision for the 100th Homecoming celebration is that Cyclones of all ages can come back to celebrate the rich tradition and the feeling of community that Iowa State provides to its students and alumni,” said Homecoming Central Committee co-chair Alicia Snyder, a senior in marketing and interior design from Carroll, Iowa.

“As important as it is for us to see students having a great time with our various Homecoming activities, we envision the Ames community and alumni from all over the country coming back ‘home’ to celebrate all that it is to be a Cyclone,” added HCC co-chair Morgan Foldes, a junior in marketing from Johnston, Iowa.

Cytennial Homecoming plans are being made all across the ISU campus and throughout the Ames community.

“The 100th anniversary of Homecoming will be celebrated community-wide. The university and the Ames community are excited to partner for this special celebration,” said Julie Larson (MS ’84 higher ed), ISU Alumni Association director of outreach and events.

Two of the biggest changes for this year’s celebration are the relocation of the pep rally to the Iowa State Center parking lot and the addition of the ISU Alumni Center Open House on Friday night.

The Alumni Center will be open Friday from 5-9 p.m., with food for purchase (free with your Homecoming button); a cash bar will be provided by Olde Main Brewing Co.

The traditional pep rally will recognize student-athletes and scholastic achievement through Cardinal Court and will feature coaches and student-athletes from the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams. Pep rally attendees will also see the Yell Like Hell finals, a can’t-miss Homecoming tradition. And student organizations will be running carnival booths in the Iowa State Center parking  lot throughout the night. There is ample free parking at the Center.

Alumni are encouraged to connect with friends at the Alumni Center Friday evening. If you would like to plan a reunion, contact Katie Lickteig (’05 marketing) at kbruxvoo@iastate.edu or by phone at (515) 294-1955. For a list of official reunions go to www.isualum.org/homecoming2012.

Friday night’s pep rally will be followed by ExCYtement in the Streets, a self-guided tour of lawn displays in the Greek community. Another Friday night option is a Homecoming concert in Hilton Coliseum: “Brantley Gilbert’s Hell on Wheels Tour” with special guests Uncle Kracker, Greg Bates, and Brian Davis. Later that evening, head over to central campus for a pancake feed starting at 10 p.m., followed by mass campaniling and fireworks at midnight.

“Friday night will a night to remember,” said Jeff Johnson, ISU Alumni Association president. “We hope alumni will come back for this very special centennial anniversary Homecoming.”

On Saturday, the traditional Cyclone Central Homecoming tailgate will take place at the Alumni Center three hours prior to kickoff. Admission is free, and every-one is welcome to attend. Fans wanting catered meals from Hickory Park must register and pay in advance at www.isualum.org/cyclonecentral. The Iowa State football team will face Baylor in its annual Homecoming football game (kickoff time TBD). The Cyclones are 2-0 all-time against Baylor in Homecoming contests (1997, 2009).

On Sunday, an all-you-can-eat breakfast featuring pancakes and sausage will be held from 8-11 a.m. in downtown Ames.

A special attraction at this year’s Homecoming is the creation of a life-sized “Butter Cy” by Iowa State Fair butter cow sculptor Sarah Pratt. The Butter Cy will be on display all day Friday (and Saturday until gametime); the sculpture is sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Several other Homecoming events are still in the works. Visit www.isualum.org/homecoming2012 for the latest details. The ISU Alumni Association is also posting event information, fun facts, history, and more on the official Cytennial Homecoming Facebook page at www.facebook.com/homecoming12.

To view a list of alumni and friends who are planning to attend Homecoming (and add your name to the list), go online to www.isualum.org/homecoming2012 and click “Who’s coming?”

Friday night’s Pep Rally & Centennial Celebration and Saturday’s Cyclone Central Homecoming tailgate are sponsored by the Iowa State University Book Store.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s