The first Homecoming was held in conjunction with the November 11, 1916, UT-Vanderbilt football game. Three hundred alumni attended, representing class years as early as 1872. The first Homecoming parade consisted of the university cadet corps in dress uniform, led by the band. The first Homecoming game proved to be exciting, as the Volunteers staged a come-from-behind upset victory, winning 10-6. President Ayres declared Monday a holiday so the celebration could continue.
World War I prevented Homecoming from becoming an annual event until 1925. UT has had a Homecoming every year since 1925 except for 1943 when students donated funds that would have been spent on Homecoming to the Red Cross or used them to purchase war bonds.
The first Homecoming Queen, Betty Walker, was crowned in November 1950. This tradition lasted until 1970 when The Daily Beacon columnist Vince Staten, photographed with a paper bag over his head, won with 2,500 votes but was not crowned as queen because his candidacy was deemed invalid. The tradition of electing a queen was briefly reinstated from 1982 through 1985. Shannon Whittington was crowned Homecoming Queen in 1985, which also marked the first time the contest had ever been won by an African American. A Miss Homecoming was crowned between 2002-2012 and two Homecoming Highnesses were crowned in 2013.
Before each Homecoming game, a Tennessee walking horse circles the field and two F/A-18 Super Hornets fly over the stadium during the national anthem.
The Office of Alumni Affairs planned the very first Homecoming all those years ago and continues to lead the planning of events that invite our alumni to return to campus for Homecoming Weekend, including the popular Party in the Park event on game day.
In addition, the Office of Multicultural Student Life, Black Cultural Programming Committee, and the National Society of Black Engineers have hosted one of Homecoming’s signature events, the Annual Southeastern Stomp Fest, since 1999.
Each year, the All Campus Events (ACE) committee, one of the oldest student organizations on campus, plans a week of traditional, competitive events for organizations, including these long-standing traditions: pep rally (established 1916), house decorating (1930), parade floats (1955), Anything Goes (1980s), and Smokey’s Howl (1990s). Several new events were added to the schedule for 2014, such as the Bed Races and Tower of Cans building contest. A small organization/residence hall division was created for Homecoming 2014 to encourage more student participation as well.
The year 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Homecoming at UT. Very few universities hold this distinctive landmark. In honor of the occasion, the university hosted many special events. This included bringing back traditional events, such as Barnwarmin’ and introducing new events like a carnival, Vol Navy Boat Races, and a historical walking tour of campus.