St. Cloud State University has retired Homecoming.
School officials say that dwindling attendance led them to end the annual celebration, which St. Cloud first held in 1925 and has been a century-long tradition of American colleges beckoning alumni home for a football-oriented weekend.
School spokesman Mike Nistler said Friday that the 142-year-old school of 18,000 or so students is "transitioning away from Homecoming to spirit/pride activities."
Wanda Overland, vice president for student life and development, said Friday that scheduling Homecoming grew difficult with so few home football games and competition for fans with other activities such as deer-hunting and the school's fairly new Family Weekend.
Overland said there likely would be "Husky Pride" activities scheduled to coincide with sports events year-round. Instead of just coming back for Homecoming, the message to alumni is "come back anytime, all the time," she said.
Anne Abicht, director of media relations for athletics, said the department met the decision with "disappointment. No matter where you are, it's always been associated with athletics."
To fill the void, Abicht added, her department intends to enhance its current football reunion of players from past teams.
St. Cloud graduate Jason Douglas (Class of '07), said he was "really surprised and disappointed" by the decision. "I've done Homecoming as a student and an alum, and it was something I was looking forward to in the upcoming year," said Douglas, of Hopkins, who earned his undergraduate degree in marketing.
Initial reaction on the school's Facebook page was more pointed.
"This university is going to hell in a hand basket," read one posting. "First you team with the city to crack down on drinking, then ban smoking on campus and now are discontinuing homecoming?!"
Another wrote: "No more alumni check from this graduate, for shame."
Terri Mische, a senior official with the St. Cloud State Alumni Association, said that "alumni weren't coming home [for Homecoming Weekend]."
"We'd have good attendance at the football game ... but out of 104,000 alumni, a total of 250 attended" other Homecoming events, said Mische, the association's director of alumni and constituent engagement.
She acknowledged that "it's a challenge" for her association to no longer have an event called Homecoming to nurture alumni. "We're going back to the drawing board, engaging alumni to see how we can bring them back ... so they want to come back."
Mische confirmed that school administrators want to do more to bring alumni back over the entire calendar. "When you have all things all in one week, not as many can participate," she said.
St. Cloud permanently ending Homecoming is at a minimum rare among colleges.
Overland said she is unaware of any other college eliminating Homecoming. She said St. Cloud considered but decided against combining its Homecoming celebration with Family Weekend, as other schools have done in recent years.
Andrew Mytelka, news editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education, the nation's leading publication for college faculty and administrators, said: "I've never heard of it [happening]. Man, that just doesn't make sense. They must be doing something wrong if they're not getting enough people."
St. Cloud's first official Homecoming occurred in 1925 on Oct. 30-31 (Friday-Saturday), when the school was known as St. Cloud Teachers College and the team nickname was the Bear Cats.
The student newspaper reported that events that weekend included a giant pep rally that opened the celebration on Friday evening, followed by a bonfire on the new athletic field. The football team played the Winona Bull Dogs on that Saturday.
Baylor, Illinois and Missouri are among schools that have staked a claim to originating the concept of Homecoming, all having staged their first around 1910. Within a decade, the celebrations had spread across the country and to the nation's myriad high schools.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482