A mini-exhibit stands outside the Special Collections on the sixth floor of the Central Library with a selection of UTA Homecoming archives chosen by Michael Barera, university and labor archivist.
The Special Collections department is experimenting with biweekly mini-exhibits this fall to welcome more students through the glass doors, Barera said. The Homecoming mini-exhibit will run through Wednesday.
The department houses rare books, documents and photographs, which can only be viewed and not checked out.
Barera gathered the photos from their digital gallery, including the UTA photograph collection, UTA news service photograph collections, and digitized yearbooks from 1922 to 1983.
He initially created a blog post and then selected the most striking photos from 1934 through the 2000s along with their descriptions to display in the exhibit, he said. One of them featured UTA’s first Black Homecoming queen, Wanda Jo Holiday, and UTA’s first-ever Homecoming king, Rodney Lewis, in 1980.
“It's a great way for current students to really connect the traditions,” Barera said. “There's kind of this sense that you're part of something bigger.”
Many traditions have come and gone through the years.
One of them was the Blue and White Fashion Show, which showed off people dressing in school colors, he said.
In 1917, before entering the UT System, UTA was a junior college in the Texas A&M System and adopted traditions such as the Aggie Bonfire for Homecoming, Barera said. Over 10,000 people would attend the Homecoming bonfires, and later events included a rock concert after the bonfire, according to a UTA Libraries blog post.
A rivalry grew between John Tarleton Agricultural College, now Tarleton State University, and the North Texas Agricultural College, now UTA, when they were both in the A&M System, he said.
In 1939, the long-standing tradition to prematurely light the rival’s bonfires drove North Texas Agriculture College students to attempt to drop phosphorus bombs from an airplane to light John Tarleton Agricultural College’s bonfire. John Tarleton students countered by jamming the propellers, Barera said, which led the plane to crash and hazing of the North Texas Agriculture students by John Tarleton Agriculture students.
Barera would like to see the bonfire tradition come back again, he said.
UTA dropped its football program in 1985, after losing millions of dollars to the program and lacking support on campus. This shifted the school’s focus to basketball for Homecoming, he said. Homecoming was held in the spring from 1985 until 2012, but moved back to the fall to line up with the beginning of basketball season.
Although not always aligned with Homecoming, one of UTA’s distinct traditions, alongside Oozeball, is the Bed Races. It started in 1980, where teams mount wheels to a bed frame and race, Barera said.
Despite changing some elements through the years, the Homecoming Court and a big athletic event are still the longest-standing traditions since the 1934-35 Homecoming week, he said.
The college has maintained a week full of activities and introduced a variety of smaller events, including improv shows and movie screenings, he said.
“Spreading it out during the week and during daytime hours, I think, makes it easier for a lot of students to engage with it,” he said.
This year’s celebrations included smaller events throughout the week such as Paint Your Ride, Chalk The Mall and the Chili Cook-off, along with the traditions on Saturday such as the parade, basketball games and the 5K run, Barera said.
“It's really remarkable to think of how the university has evolved, and [how] the Homecoming traditions have evolved with that,” he said.