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Friday, December 08, 2023

Homecoming football traditions to kick off in full force

Flamingos and parades take over Madison every year for homecoming, and the city is ready for another season of festivities.

As the University of Wisconsin-Madison celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, it also celebrates its 112th Homecoming

Homecoming festivities have been a part of UW-Madison’s history since 1911. Many events have come and gone, but there are some that continue to stand strong.

Before 1911, the Wisconsin Alumni Association (WAA) invited alumni back for class reunions in June, around the time of commencement. Then, in 1911, WAA officials decided to invite alumni back during the football season — known as the university’s first “homecoming.”

Alumni returned to campus to eat donuts, drink apple cider and smoke cigars. They could also listen to prominent alumni speak before going off to Camp Randall Stadium for the football game. This event became known as “Smokes and Cider,” and for the next year, it was deemed “homecoming.”

In 1919, the WAA created the annual homecoming ball, an event meant for current students to celebrate. 

This event was like a high school dance. Students were able to dress up, bring dates and enjoy time with friends and fellow students. A homecoming king and queen were named every year at the ball starting in 1937. The ball was eventually discontinued in 2011.

Another classic UW-Madison homecoming tradition began in 1979 when students planted over 1,000 pink flamingos on Bascom Hill as a prank. While flamingos are not native to Wisconsin and held no significance, that quickly changed as many students enjoyed the prank. The flamingo prank was done by the Pail and Shovel Party, a mock political organization at the time. 

The Wisconsin Alumni Association turned what was once a prank into a fundraiser, beginning officially 11 years ago. Now, the Fill the Hill fundraiser is held during homecoming week.

After homecoming’s fifth year, the WAA let students control the planning with supervision. With student involvement, there were many new activities created, like the Homecoming Ball. Students also created a house-decorating contest in the 1960s that eventually spread to residence halls in the 1980s. 

While events like “Smokes and Cider” and the Homecoming Ball didn’t stick around, many traditions are still seen in recent homecoming celebrations. In 1911, the Madison community came together to decorate windows for the occasion, and the WAA sold buttons to help alumni celebrate. These two acts are still done today by the Wisconsin Homecoming Committee. 

The committee also hosts “Paint the Town,” which allows registered student organizations to decorate windows along Memorial Union. Businesses on State Street also join in and allow the committee to advertise on their windows. The artwork stays up throughout the whole week and can be viewed at any time.  Throughout homecoming week, students are bound to see committee members passing out buttons, shirts and more. 

Even with all the events and traditions to celebrate on campus, the football game still builds the most excitement for alumni and students. 

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The first homecoming football game was against the University of Minnesota in 1911 and resulted in a 6-6 tie. Arguably the most iconic homecoming game took place in 1949 against Iowa. This game featured the first appearance of a human Bucky, with a head made of chicken wire and paper mache. Wisconsin won the game 35-13. 

This year’s homecoming game is against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have a 4-1 record and are currently ranked fifth in the Big Ten East. The Badgers are currently ranked first in the Big Ten West with an overall record of 3-1. The Badgers have a 4-0 record against Rutgers since 2014.

While the festivities are ever-changing, the welcoming atmosphere in Madison continues to bring alumni back to celebrate and enjoy a Badger football game. This year’s homecoming started with the Kickoff Concert featuring Armani White and D.A.R.S. on September 30th. 

The week between Oct.1 through Oct. 7 will be full of events and opportunities to celebrate homecoming. Some of these events include Cocoa with Hoco on Oct. 2 and the Homecoming Parade on Oct. 6. 

A full list of Homecoming events and activities can be found on Instagram @wiscohoco, or online via A list of events for alumni can be found online at

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