On last night’s episode of NCIS, Ducky began only to be overtaken by Jimmy Palmer, a meditation on the history of homecoming. Palmer mentioned how homecoming is credited as beginning with Chester Brewer at the University of Missouri. As someone very familiar with MSU history, the name Chester Brewer jumped out at me. Brewer worked at MSU. Twice.
If you don’t know the name Chester Brewer, you should. Back in the days of MSU history when athletics was just starting to be accepted by the administration, Chester Brewer arrived at Michigan Agricultural College (MAC) on September 1, 1903. He was the new professor of physical culture and director of athletics. At that time our football team was officially only 7 years old (1896) and our basketball team was only 4 years old (1899). In his first annual report, Brewer wrote that his objective was “to build up strong healthy bodies and to make manly men.”
Whether or not Brewer accomplished that objective is up for debate, however there is no doubt that Brewer is the person who took MAC’s athletic program into the 20th century. In doing that and for so many other reasons, Brewer won the respect of the students, faculty and administrators. He led his Aggie teams to such dominance during his first term at MAC that the college was expelled from the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA). Big football games included a 0-0 tie with University of Michigan in 1908 and a 17-0 upset of Notre Dame in 1910. His basketball teams had a record of 70-25 over seven seasons.
More significant than his teams’ records was the effect he had on the student athletes. He negotiated an end to the violent brawls there were the freshmen-sophomore class rivalry. These fights had caused many injuries among the students and gave the college a bad reputation. Instead Brewer organized a series of games that could be played for points. This new system kept the freshman-sophomore rivalry alive and cut down on the number of injuries sustained. He also supervised the men’s dormitories and effectively managed the monies appropriated by the college for athletics. He made sure that all students playing for the school were students and not paid ringers. For all that he did for them, the students loved Chester Brewer.
It was the ill-health of Brewer’s wife that made him leave MAC for the University of Missouri. It was there that he is credited with creating homecoming in 1911. Brewer didn’t stay away from MAC forever. He returned to the school in 1917 and stayed until 1921.
To Spartans, Chester Brewer should be more than a footnote in homecoming history. He should be remembered as the man who made it possible for our athletic programs to be as great as they are today.