Thursday, October 12, 2017

The First Homecoming Tradition and the Creation of a Mascot

by Bryan Whitledge

In 1924, the Central Michigan Normal School held our first homecoming football game. And even from the first game, it was important to establish traditions. Some of the traditions that Central students and alumni have known through the years include Homecoming Mums (1930s-80s), the Homecoming Queen (1946-96), the Homecoming King (1982-96), the Homecoming 5K(1987-present) and the Homecoming Medallion Hunt (2003-present). In 1924, the first tradition started by Centralites (we weren’t the Chippewas until 1941 and we weren’t even the Bearcats until 1927), aside from the game, was the menacing dragon that trotted out at halftime to intimidate the opposing Alma team and inspired our gridiron boys to victory. According to the 1925 yearbook, the dragon “symbolized that the visiting eleven was helpless against the dragon-like power of the Maroon and Gold fighters.”

The following year, the second homecoming was planned. Among the highlights of the Friday-night pep rally, was “the traditional Central Normal dragon,” which “wound its way among the crowd encircling the bonfire while the red lights shooting out from its gaping mouth were portents of the ordeal that Albion must undergo on the morrow.” The dragon also made an appearance at halftime the following day when the Central team held the strong Albion squad to a draw. Clearly the fire-breathing dragon had become a homecoming tradition.

Through all this time, Central still did not have a nickname for the athletics teams. It should come as no surprise then, in June of 1926, when a Central Normal Life sportswriter was lamenting the lack of a snappy name for the team, that “Dragons” would be suggested as a nickname for Central’s teams. The writer noted that the fire-breathing dragon was Central’s “outstanding pep innovation of recent years.”

Through that fall and spring, the Central Normal Life was full of headlines like, “Dragons Smash Thru for Four Touchdowns,” and “MIAA Champs Vanquished, 13-2, Bv Terrific Drive of the Dragons.” But alas, the Dragons would last only one year. By August 1927, students were calling for a new mascot to compete in the world of Bulldogs, Bears, and Tigers. An early suggestion was Wildcats, but by October, Bearcats was the name that was chosen. As the Central State Life noted at the time, “the expression [Bearcats] is one that is used much in this section of the state to signify that a team or an individual is a topnotcher, a fighter, and a winner.”

It’s not often that a school’s Homecoming tradition gives rise to a team mascot, but such is the case for Central’s short-lived fire-breathing dragon that rallied students and intimidated opponents.