NIU homecoming steeped in history
By Barry Schrader, senior columnist, Daily Chronicle Oct. 7, 2017
From 60 years ago: These 1957 NIU football players looked dejected for a reason; they lost their homecoming game that year to Western Illinois University, 33-13. (Photo courtesy of Regional History Center at NIU)
Could Northern Illinois University have the distinction of holding the earliest homecoming of any university in Illinois, and one of the first in the nation?
Retired NIU Sports Information Director Mike Korcek has done extensive research on the subject and talked about it earlier this week at the Founders Library. He found proof that NIU’s first homecoming was in 1903, when the football team and the alumni played the first game. The football team skunked the alums, 6-0. Korcek knows how to collect and tally stats – something he did for all of his 37-year career at NIU.
He got interested in accumulating all this information when he found out the University of Illinois was claiming it had invented homecoming, but was actually six years behind NIU. He became more worked up when he visited the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, where a large display in the lobby claimed the University of Missouri held the record when its first homecoming occurred in 1911.
Mike shared an article with me from the October 1906 Northern Illinois, the student newspaper, which used the word “homecoming” for the first time. That next year, the Alumni Association was formed, and its constitution stated that an alumni homecoming would be observed the second Saturday of October each year.
But during World War I, when most of the young male population was in the military, football was canceled for three seasons (1917 to ’19), so this is the 111th NIU homecoming, not its 114th.
Korcek was not content just to set the record straight with the U of I and Missouri, so went about contacting other Big Ten schools, plus some of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country. He found out that some small southern college – Southwestern Texas – held one in 1900, so it could be first. But then he discovered Michigan played a homecoming game in 1897, so now he says, “In short, I don’t think anyone really knows who invented homecoming – but NIU is way up there near the top.”
Continuing his research, Korcek can also tell you when the first homecoming queen was crowned: 1947. She was Lois Goetz, a sophomore from Chicago; but for some reason, he didn’t tell me who the king was that year. Maybe I just forgot to ask.
Being the ultimate jock statistician, he found out that two of the early homecoming kings were inducted into the Northern Athletics Hall of Fame – George Acker, a junior from Dixon, and a guard on the Huskies team, was crowned in 1950, and Bob Heimerdinger, a senior quarterback from Riverside in 1951.
I had more trivia questions, but was afraid to ask – this column needs to end at 500 words. So if you ever run into Korcek, ask him how many homecoming games the Huskies have won, and what is their overall win-loss record since the school opened in 1899. OK, I reached 500 words now, or is it only 499, Mike?