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Creating Traditions: Coe’s First Three Home Comings[1]

On Friday, November 13, 1913, Coe College held the first Home Coming celebration in the history of the college. Arranged by student organizations and members of the faculty, the weekend was a time for alumni to gather and attend a Coe vs. Cornell game. It was perhaps due to the alumni in attendance and the spirit generated by such a gathering that made Home Coming a tradition to be shared by both coeds and alumni alike.

The schedule of festivities began Thursday, February 12th, with a mass meeting for Coe students and alum to “let out that old Coe spirit and get acquainted with our new Coe spirit,” (Cosmos October 20,1913). Friday would include class reunions in the morning, a luncheon, and the Coe vs. Cornell game in the afternoon.  Over three hundred alumni attended the luncheon alone.

The Home Coming game was the first of three football matches to be played that weekend. The Coe-Cornell game was the last of the varsity season, and hotly contested.  Coe had maintained an undefeated season but the team from Cornell was tough.  It was a home game, so extra bleachers were added to the Coe side of the field. Kohawks of past and present filled the 2,000 seats and stood three deep on both side lines and ends, (Cosmos November 17, 1913). Many fans were reported slipping beneath the canvas fence in different parts of the field, and some went as far as to go to the Cornell side of the field just for a better view of the game. With approximately 3000 fans for the Coe side alone, ticket sales reached nearly $1000, which was equally divided between Coe and Cornell.

“The Coe runners showed far more speed and dash than Cornell but were more frequent offenders by fumbling, losing the ball five times to Cornell by this method, and thus giving the Methodists their only two chances within scoring distance.”  (Cosmos, Nov. 17, 1913)  Coe was on the offensive in the game; Cornell, the defensive.  The Coe team, as named in the Cosmos, was Waldo Peschau, Leo Novak, Herbert Swanson, Leo Dunlap, Eugene Lighter, Oscar Thomas, Glenn Bailey, John Roberts, Charles West, Ray Park, John Skein, Ira Needles, and Thomas Knapp.  Bailey, the team’s best kicker, was pulled out of the game in the first quarter with a dislocated shoulder.  Even lacking Bailey, Coe’s offensive was “shown up much superior to that of Cornell.”  (Cosmos, Nov 17, 1913)  Coe managed a total of fourteen first downs and a total of 236 yards carried as opposed to Cornell’s seven first downs and 121 yards carried.  Coe, however, was set back a total of 95 yards, while Cornell was only set back 70. 

The game ended in a scoreless tie. Coe was not only undefeated; they also were never scored on in the 1913-1914 season. Nearly three thousand Coe fans marched in “hilarious array” to the business district where they marched through the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids, following the newly organized Coe band. The alumni met in the basement of the chapel to celebrate the successful football season and to hear Athletics Director “Prof” Bryant, President Marquis and Prof. Scott of the English department speak.

Saturday morning the Coe Freshman team trounced Tipton High school, “a bunch that always bids high for state championship,” (Cosmos October 20, 1913). Alumni were also encouraged to travel to Iowa City in the afternoon to watch the Iowa vs. Iowa State game.

Home Coming 1914 was a Coe-Grinnell game held on October 31.  The Cosmos campaigned to maintain student interest in the festivities with extended editorials urging students to be involved and an article in the Cosmos on October 27, 1914:

The first important event of the home-coming celebration will be held on Friday evening at seven o’clock, when a mass meeting will be held preliminary to the big game.  For the meeting, which will be in charge of Yell Leader Wells, the usual number of songs, yells, and pep talks from such prominent speakers as “Prof,” “Coach,” and “Cap” will be provided.  Every student, past and present of Coe, as well as people of the city will be welcomed to this mass meeting, there to be instilled anew with the proper fighting spirit that wins the games for Coe.

The Coe football team of 1914 was one of the best in Coe history and Home Coming 1914 ended the first season of Coach Moray Eby, who would become the most famous coach at Coe.  The team, according to the Cosmos, consisted of Thomas Knapp, Fred J. Carlstrom, Louis Kresensky, Leo Dunlap, Edwin Swanson, Leo Novak, Arnold Kresensky, Wilmer Elfrink, Ray Park, Glenn Bailey, and Harry Wykoff. 

The Cosmos’ coverage of the 1914 game differs from coverage of the 1913 game.  Coverage in 1913 was in a florid, wordy style which related information about the crowd and about past football games during the season.  The 1914 game write-up in the Cosmos consists of four short paragraphs, one for each quarter of the game.  Each paragraph is precise in the actions occurring during that quarter:

Coe took the field at 3:00 receiving a great ovation from over 500 rooters.  Eby sent his entire first team against Grinnell, who kicked to Coe.  Bailey on 1sr down, makes sensational 55 yard run to Grinnell’s 10 yard line, carries it on over on third down for first score, Elfrink kicks goal.  Score 7-0.  Coe receives again, fumbles, holds Grinnell for downs, and Bailey goes 70 yards for second touch down.  Park kicks goal for 14 to 0 count.  Coe receives again, ball to Bailey who returns it 60 yards.  Park over for another count.  Elfrink makes goal.  Score 21 to 0.  Grinnell receives, is held for downs.  Park going over for more points, Elfink makes goal. Score 28 to 0.  Rest of quarter fought at middle of field.  (Nov. 3, 1914)

The final score fro the game is Coe 85, Grinnell 0.

By November of 1915, Homecoming appears in the Cosmos as one word, the way it remains.  “Homecoming day was first made an annual event at Coe two years ago, and will be continued as a permanent tradition of the college.” (Nov 2, 1915)  Homecoming 1915 combined the Coe-Cornell game on Friday the 12th with a performance on the 13th by the world’s foremost violinist, Fritz Kreisler, invited to perform at the City Auditorium by the Coe College Choral Union.  Homecoming festivities opened much as the previous two years with a reunion and luncheon at which over four hundred alumni, students, and former students gathered. 

The Coe-Cornell game started at 2:30.  The Coe team consisted of Arnold Kresensky, Leo Novak, Leroy Weeber, Leo Dunlap, Delbert Potter, Harry Wykoff, Paul Shedd, Wilmer Elfrink, Walter Rust, John Martin, and Ray Park.  The game did not begin well for Coe; in the first three quarters Cornell scored 10 points while Coe failed to score.  Yet though it did not seem possible, the Coe team came from behind in the fourth quarter and won by three points in the last eight minutes:  “Outplayed but not outfought, out pointed but not defeated, and with only eight minutes to play, Coach Moray L. Eby’s moleskinned warriors staged a most remarkable finish in the annual Coe-Cornell clash on the Coe gridiron….”  (Cosmos, Nov. 16, 1915)  After the game, over 500 students and alum followed the football team for the ringing of the Coe victory bell, and then marched through the streets of downtown Cedar Rapids.  The Coe-Cornell game was followed in the evening by a performance by Coe’s first minstrel show at Greene’s Opera House and on Saturday by the Fritz Kreisler performance. 

Homecoming added a Chapel service, closed the school on Friday, Homecoming Day, and instituted a Vespers for the alumni.  With each of these traditions the celebration became more elaborate; eventually it would include a bonfire and the Homecoming dance.  Homecoming as a tradition still exists in the present-day culture of Coe College, with a Homecoming parade, floats, the dance, and of course the Homecoming game; but traces it’s roots back to 1913 and an idea for uniting the alumni and the current Coe students around a central event.


[1] The first two years, Home Coming was printed as two separate words; it does not appear as Homecoming until the 1915 Cosmos.


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