By Guest Blogger Scott N.
With the nation’s oldest public university, it’s no surprise that game days in Chapel Hill are steeped in tradition. Homecoming is no exception and this year’s promises to be a “homecoming to remember” as UNC plays one of its biggest rivals, Duke, on November 7th. Each year, Carolina alumni are welcomed back home to show their “blue spirit,” reconnect and reminisce with colleagues and friends, and partake in a wide range of activities centered around welcoming the Tar Heel football team back from (as one hopes) a victorious run of away games.
The tradition of welcoming alumni back to Carolina’s campus originated in the eighteenth century, longer than any other public university; but it wasn’t until 1892 when Carolina “homecoming” can be first linked to football. An informal affair was hastily assembled to welcome the team after their unbelievable three game winning streak that year against Auburn, Vanderbuilt, and Virginia. Nearly all of the 317 attending students participated, chanting “Rah Rah White, Rah Rah Blue, Hoopla Hoopla, NCU” while pulling the team’s carriages sent to retrieve them onto campus where a banquet had been prepared in their honor. Festivities, it was said, lasted well into the evening.
In 1916, when Carolina’s Emerson Field was completed (located on what is now Davis Library) , Yackety Yak editors called for an official homecomingevent similar to those started just a few years earlier at the University of Missouri and other surrounding institutions. Plans were in the works for the first ever officially sanctioned homecoming event when World War I forced the cancellation of the football season in 1917. The idea wouldn’t gain enough traction again until 1923 when UNC’s first homecoming was finally held on Thanksgiving that year. Dances, plays and alumni reunions were scheduled in conjunction with the homecoming game against Virginia. Despite a rainy game-day ending in a 0-0 tie, a record 14,000 attended the event.
Popularity for homecoming continued to grow along with the scope of its activities. Rameses the Ram was first introduced as UNC’s mascot at the 1926 Homecoming. The brainchild of UNC’s head cheerleader, Vic Huggins, it was hoped that the addition of a mascot would break UNC’s recent slump. Kicker Bunn Hackney, who had rubbed Rameses’ head as a good luck measure earlier in the game went on to kick the winning field goal that evening against VMI, cementing both Rameses’ return and the return of enthusiastic alums for years to come. Kenan Stadium was officially dedicated during the 1927 Homecoming although the first “housewarming” win against Davidson had actually occurred two weeks prior. The 1930’s saw the addition of the homecoming parades, pep rallies and bon fires, along with the first crowning of a male professor and female student as “Homecoming King and Queen;” a tradition that lasted largely intact into the early 2000s when the Homecoming King was eventually replaced by a student.
Homecoming is a wonderful time for the uninitiated to get their first case of Carolina Fever. My grandfather and I attended a homecoming event together in my younger days and I remember that the atmosphere had almost an electrostatic quality to it; no doubt generated from the heightened enthusiasm exhibited by all the fans.
As always, this year there will be plenty of engaging activities for students and alums alike. For early arrivals, the Liberty Mutual Golf Tournament will be held on November 6th at the Golf Club at Chapel Ridge. Designed by Master Champion Fred Couples and ASGCA’s Bob Moore, the course, with its rolling hills and a more traditional approach found in older courses, is a crowd-pleaser for many golfing enthusiasts. A portion of the fees will go to the Light on the Hill Society Scholarship and prizes are awarded to the top four teams.
Not into golf? That’s OK, stick around town that day and attend the annual Alumni Milestone Mixer sponsored by the Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery. All alums are invited to spend the evening gathering with classmates and friends, enjoying live entertainment and sampling TOPO’s delicious food and home-brewed beer and spirits. If it’s been a while since you returned to the campus you will find some significant changes. I encourage you to take time out for a leisurely walk downtown and revisit some memorable landmarks… the Planetarium, The Carolina Coffee Shop, Julian’s, Sutton’s, He’s Not Here…and acquaint yourself with some new and creative storefront editions like Sophie & Mollies, The Bookshop, Noodles and Company…just to name a few.
If you discover you’re short on Carolina spirit, wake up early on Saturday and stop by Chapel Hill Sportswear before heading on to campus for the big game. Kathy Sapp, UNC Alum and former athlete started the business in 1989 as a means of consolidating her two passions: UNC and athletics. In 2012 the successful enterprise moved up the street to their present location inside the former home of the Intimate Bookstore. There you’ll find a large variety of Carolina gear…hats, sweat shirts and the usual traditional fare as well some less traditional gifts for the folks back home.
The first homecoming game to be played against Duke didn’t occur until 2009 and is a truly rare occasion. Be sure to head to the game early enough to take in the homecoming sights and sounds. Tar Heel Town opens three hours before kick-off with activities for all age groups: tailgate parties, food, live music, face painting, games, and homecoming activates will continue, including the famous “March to Victory” where fans are encouraged to greet the team as they strut from Bell Tower Drive to meet Duke head-on on “our terms” until just prior to kickoff. If you have never performed the “Bell Tower Climb,” be sure to take the opportunity while visiting Tar Heel Town. Climbing the 128 stairs to the Bell Tower’s lower terrace offers one a rare opportunity to see a bird’s eye view of the campus and the fall colors, thanks to our dry summer weather, should be quite vibrant and just coming off peak season homecoming weekend.
Don’t let the festivities end simply because the last fight song has played. Be sure to attend the two hour post game celebration hosted at the Carolina Inn immediately after the game. Or take in some of the night spots downtown while waiting for that terrible post-game traffic to subside.
Reunions, completions, and of course, the crowning of Mr. and Miss UNC will occur throughout the weekend. ..all centered around building lasting memories for the folks who have called …orare calling…Carolina home for four years. No matter what you are in to, you will find fun and memories this Homecoming Weekend.