Sports researcher says NIU has a big part in homecoming history

NIU hosted one of the first homecoming football games in 1903.
Published: Sep. 24, 2023 at 10:50 PM CDT
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DEKALB, Ill. (WIFR) - With colleges and high schools celebrating homecoming across the country this fall, people might be wondering who invented homecoming and how it become such a big event.

DeKalb community members gathered at the Joseph Glidden Homestead and Historical Center Sunday afternoon to learn more about the origins of homecoming and how Northern Illinois University (NIU) is a big part of that history.

According to Mike Korcek, Northern Illinois University (NIU)’s sports information director emeritus, NIU hosted one of the first homecoming football games in 1903.

“Northern (Illinois University) did not invent it but neither did the University of Illinois which claimed for decades that it did,” he said.

Prior claims by the University of Illinois (U of I) that it invented homecoming sent Korcek on a two-decade journey. He found U of I started their annual homecoming games in 1907 but NIU’s annual game began in 1903.

“The only claim (NIU) made was that we had the oldest homecoming among the three major pro football programs in the state of Illinois,” he said.

According to Korcek, the first documented NIU homecoming football game was a contest between alumni but from his research, one school still beats the 1903 start. The University of Michigan’s game dates back to 1897.

“When you open a TV broadcast and the announcer from the network says welcome to Michigan’s 100th homecoming game and it’s the year 2000, you start doing the mental math,” he said.

NIU’s 116th homecoming events kick off Oct. 8 and the football game against Ohio University is Oct. 14.

“My favorite part about NIU homecoming is honestly just how unified the campus is,” said Chyna Bennett who has attended their homecoming for four years. “You see a lot of red and black for any event that you’re going to and everyone’s just in the NIU spirit.”

“My friends are going to come visit so yeah they’re going to come down here and probably my family too if they can,” said Nevaeh Robinson-Cunningham, first-year psychology student.

To fully answer the question of who invented homecoming, Korcek simply says, no one. According to his research, University of Michigan had the earliest known annual game, but Baylor University hosted the first game in 1895, it just wasn’t recurring at that time.

For those interested in attending NIU’s homecoming events, check out their website for a full calendar of events from Oct. 8-15.