It’s hard to imagine back-to-school season without pep rallies, football games, and of course, the famous homecoming dance. These traditions are so long standing that they’re taken for granted as annual events that have always happened and probably always will.

But have you ever wondered who came up with the tradition of homecoming dances and how it became such a widespread phenomenon? Read on to discover a brief history of homecoming dances.

What is homecoming?

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Nope! It’s not the same as prom. To understand the tradition of the homecoming dance, first you need to understand the tradition of homecoming itself.

Homecoming is a tradition that welcomes back students, both current students after a summer holiday as well as former students and teachers. Usually, it’s centered around a sporting event such as a football game. It’s mostly a celebration of the school itself, a show of pride and support for the team.

The homecoming tradition is most famously observed in high schools and colleges. However, it may also be observed in churches and other organizations.

The hazy origins of homecoming

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While the tradition of homecoming is pretty straightforward, the story behind how it evolved is a little less clear. There are several schools that claim ownership of the idea.

Each school has a valid claim. However, pop culture points to the University of Missouri as the school that really established the tradition.

The NCAA, questions on "Jeopardy!,” and trivia in “Trivial Pursuit” all cite a 1911 football game at the University of Missouri as the first occasion when “homecoming” became a trend.

For a little backstory, the school’s football team, the Missouri Tigers, had a long-standing rivalry against the Kansas Jayhawks.

In 1911, the Missouri team tried to build up pep by inviting alumni to “come home” for the game. It was championed by the athletic director at the time, Chester Brewer.

The tradition caught on, and parades and dances and other celebrations like bonfires were added. The model went on to be adopted by a huge number of schools and organizations.

The homecoming court

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The homecoming court has become a big part of the homecoming tradition over the years. The court is comprised of a group of students.

Usually, the center of this so-called court is a king and a queen, though other “royalty” like princes and princesses might be part of the mix. In a single-gender school, it may be only a king and/or prince or a queen and/or princess, though various configurations exist such as collaborations between single-sex schools or alternative arrangements.

Usually, the court is composed of seniors, though underclassmen can be included too.

The process of choosing and crowning the king and queen and court will also vary based on the establishment. Sometimes a vote is made by fellow classmates. Other times the court members are chosen by faculty.

The announcement of the court can vary, too. Sometimes, it’s announced at a pep rally or football game; other times, it’s during a parade or a homecoming dance.

The homecoming dance

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The homecoming dance is a common part of homecoming celebrations. Often, it occurs around the time of a banner game for the football team.

The homecoming dance may occur directly following the game or in the days leading up to or following it.

Frequently, the dance will include traditions like a solo dance with the homecoming king and queen, who may or may not wear crowns or sashes. They may also have other school spirit-related duties during the dance.

Coming home

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Regardless of its hazy origins, the homecoming tradition has been going strong for over a century and shows no signs of slowing down. Sure, the tradition has evolved a lot over the years, but the end goal remains the same: showing school pride in a fun and festive way.