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Past & Present: Iowa State Homecoming Traditions

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Photo courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives/Iowa State University Library
Cy the Cardinal was introduced as Iowa State’s mascot during the homecoming pep rally in 1954. 

As this year’s “Carnival and Gold” celebration marks the 111th homecoming at Iowa State, many of its rich traditions live on, while others have faded out over the years.

Iowa State’s first homecoming took place in 1912, 54 years after the institution was founded. The Cyclones took on their interstate rivals, the Hawkeyes, on Nov. 16, 1912. The game took place at State Field, located where Parks Library stands today. Though the Cyclones’ hopes were spoiled by the Hawkeyes in a 20-7 defeat, the game began the homecoming tradition that would live on throughout Iowa State’s history.

Cy the Cardinal

During the 1954 homecoming, Iowa State introduced its beloved mascot to the world, Cy the Cardinal. The Iowa State Pep Council ultimately decided that creating a mascot in the shape of a cyclone would be too difficult, and elected to pay respects to the university’s official colors through Cy the cardinal, named by alumna Wilma Beckman Ohlsen after winning a contest held by the pep council.

Pep Rallies

Since the first homecoming in 1912, Iowa State has held pep rallies on Fridays before football games as a way to get students excited and boost school spirit. Some of the first homecoming pep rallies featured members of the original 1892 football team, as well as alumni of the first graduating class. In 1916, the first “Beat Iowa” pep rally was held as 4,000 Cyclone supporters marched the floor of State Gym.

As Iowa State selected new opponents for its homecoming games, the “Beat Iowa” events faded out and were replaced by new pep rally traditions including homecoming barbecues. The first of these “pep barbeques” took place in 1930 where the  Armory stands today. Around 1,000 pounds of beef was served at the barbeque to the 3,000 supporters in attendance. Eventually, these homecoming cookouts came to be known as “Hamburgers for Homecoming,” with the exception in 1943 when “Weiners in Wartime” was held, due to a ground beef shortage during WWII. While pep rally traditions have been modified and altered over the years, the events remain a part of the homecoming tradition to excite students and alumni for Saturday football games.

Cy’s Favorite Alumni

Beginning in 1955, the Department of Athletics and the Alumni Association have selected an outstanding graduate, contributor or supporter to be deemed with the title of “Cy’s Favorite Alumni.” The award is presented annually to the recipient at halftime of the homecoming football game. The recipients for this year’s “Carnival and Gold” celebration are Craig and Virginia Petermeier, who have been loyal Cyclone alumni and supporters for nearly 30 years and have made contributions toward the university’s various projects.

Yell Like Hell

Dating back to 1963, Yell Like Hell is a deep-rooted homecoming tradition for Iowa State students and the Panhellenic community. During the first year of the event, resident hall students were encouraged to orchestrate an original chant to submit to the competition. Five finalist groups were then selected to perform their chants at the homecoming pep fest.

Today, the tradition has intertwined with greek life at Iowa State. Fraternities and sororities are paired together to choreograph and perform their chant in front of a panel of judges during homecoming week. The rules for the competition have evolved into strict criteria, including covering one’s body entirely in paint as greek life students yell their hearts out for a shot at the coveted homecoming trophy. 

Food on Campus

A tradition that has quickly become popular amongst Iowa State students is the week-long Food on Campus event. Hosted by the Iowa State Alumni Association, students have the opportunity to purchase a homecoming button for $5 from the Iowa State Bookstore or from the lunch tents themselves. With the purchase of this button, students are eligible to receive a free lunch each day of homecoming week on Central Campus. Some of this year’s lunches include Hickory Park, Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Pizza Ranch.

ExCYtement in the Streets

One of Iowa State University’s newest traditions, ExCYtement in the Streets, features a series of lawn displays throughout the campus’ Greekland. These displays pay homage to each year’s light up the night with school spirit. This year’s event will take place from 8-10 p.m. on Friday throughout Ash Avenue and Greek Circle.

Homecoming Football Game

After a week packed with tradition and excitement, homecoming week draws to a close with the grand finale football game. Following wins in its previous two homecoming games, the Cyclones look to keep their streak alive with a win against the 22nd-ranked Kansas Jayhawks at 6 p.m. on Saturday under the lights of Jack Trice Stadium.

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