Homecoming and Mackay Week
by Charles Hanselman
From the earliest years of the University of Nevada, there has been some sort of Homecoming event in the fall. However, the set of events which are most commonly associated with a Nevada Homecoming did not begin until 1920. The 1920 Homecoming was a one-day event. On that day, Homecoming activities consisted of the Nevada and Aggies football game, the Wolves Frolic, and the Homecoming Parade.
The football game has always been the main event for Homecoming at Nevada. Today, the Nevada Homecoming game draws sell-out crowds of alumni, students, and regional supporters to Mackay Stadium. During the first two homecomings held at Nevada, student and alumni attendance enhanced the pride in the University’s victories. In 1924, over 2,500 people attended the homecoming game, including over 100 alumni who returned to support Nevada. Homecoming game attendance continued to increase in later years.
The earliest Wolves Frolic was a dramatic pageant or play presented by University students and instructors. The Wolves Frolic is still part of the contemporary Nevada Homecoming Week, but its format has changed through the years. In 1923, it moved away from being a talent show with individual student performances to more of a showcase for student groups and organizations, such as fraternities, sororities, and representatives of the dormitories. Currently, the Wolves Frolic is a mix of individual performances and skits or musical performances by various campus groups.
In 1923, Nevada’s Homecoming was sponsored by student organizations for the first time. The University’s Agriculture and Engineering student organizations co-planned the first multi-day Homecoming event. The “Aggie Fair” and Wolves Frolic were held on the day before the football game against Santa Clara University. Over the next few years, Nevada’s Homecoming evolved as more and more students and student organizations became involved and added more events to the calendar. In 1924, the homecoming event culminated in the Aggie Dance, which was held in the Virginia Street Gymnasium. Hard cider was a highlight of the refreshments. By 1926, Nevada’s Homecoming again expanded. An extra day was added to the event, and the tradition of the Homecoming Bonfire was born. On the first day of homecoming, a bonfire was held to rally support for the Pack’s game against St. Mary’s University. Later, in 1935, fireworks were added to the bonfire event. The bonfire tradition continues today and is one of the best events of UNR’s Homecoming Week.
Another University tradition, repainting the “N” on Peavine Mountain by students and student groups, began before the 1920 and was soon incorporated as a homecoming event.
The Nevada Homecoming Parade is one of the University’s earliest homecoming events. From 1920 until 1934, the parade was held just prior to the football game. In 1935, however, the parade was moved to the second day of homecoming, along with the Wolves Frolic. The parade was held in downtown Reno and featured the football team as well as floats created by campus social organizations. Later, the parade was returned to game day, as it is now held. Today’s homecoming parade is open to any group that wishes to build a float or otherwise participate.
Since the 1920s, Greek life on the Nevada campus has been a large part of Nevada’s Homecoming programming. Special Greek events have included the Manzanita Lake Tug-o-war, which was also part of the Mackay Week, and the Inter-Fraternity cross-country race. While the Tug-o-war over Manzanita Lake is no longer held, the first Wolf Trot in 2009 brought back the tradition of running competitions held during homecoming.
Homecoming events have declined in popularity in the past several years as fewer students attend the events. However, the overall attendance for the events has generally stayed steady. Homecoming today is a full week event, with mid-day activities such as bounce houses and bucking bulls and school-sponsored BBQs, as well as the bonfire/prep rally, the parade, the Wolf Trot, and the Wolves Frolic.
The first Mackay Day was held in 1913. Events held in conjunction with Mackay Day during its first decade included repainting the “N” on Peavine Mountain and student competitions. In 1928, Mackay Day was changed to include efforts to clean up and improve the University. In the true spirit of Clarence Mackay, students cleared and rebuilt the track around the old Mackay Stadium.
In 1949, Mackay Day was expanded to include a fraternity competition. Activities included an obstacle course that required students to paddle across Manzanita Lake, a wheelbarrow race to the fifty-yard line of Mackay Stadium, and a dry dirt ski race across the football field. A melodramatic play of Nevada’s history was also presented, which was later shown in Virginia City as a fundraiser for the University.
In the 1970s Mackay Day was expanded into Mackay Week. By that time, the Board of Regents had banned alcohol from events on campus without special permission. Therefore, events with drinking were held off campus in Evans Park. In 1975, Mackay Week staged the first faculty/ administration - student beer-baseball game. That year, student organizations also created the first Mackay Town, with booths in a fair-like setting off campus.
Today Mackay Week is not celebrated as it was in the past and is a smaller event. Mackay Week still has Mackay Town, but it is no longer held off campus, which means that alcohol cannot be served. The contemporary Mackay Week holds more true to its namesake, focusing on the achievements of mining and engineering students.
The University of Nevada’s traditions have been in a state of constant change since their first days. The events themselves are the highpoints of organized student life at the University. As some old traditions die away, new ones will always come up to replace them and inspire school spirit and pride.