The History of Homecoming in Decatur


A drum major leads band and majorettes down McDonough Road.

Elle Girard, Writer

Throughout the decades, Decatur High School (DHS) has cherished the traditions of homecoming, the annual fall event that unifies past and present students through parades, dances and football. Four DHS alumni from the 1960s-2010s have recounted their memorable activities from homecoming. While many traditions have evolved over the years, the festive sentiments for community spirit in Decatur have always remained. 

Freddy Bailey, a Decatur alumni from the class of 1969 recalled that homecoming only became an event in DHS in the early 1950s. “The Decatur boys’ high school and the girls’ high school ended in 1952, and so all the way through the 1940s, there was no recollection of homecoming in the yearbooks,” Bailey said. When the schools merged together in 1953, a small itinerary of a queen court and dance began. “There wasn’t a parade because nobody had a car that would run,” he said.

However, when the parades did come along in the early 1960s, the central focus of the event was the crowned queens. According to Bailey, a girl from each grade garbed head to toe in fluffy white dresses rode up McDonough street and around the Square. Before Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority  MARTA was built, cars and floats were able to drive around the old courthouse. “You’d find someone with a convertible and the [queens] all rode on the back,” Bailey said. 

Following them were a large squad of baton-twirling dancers called majorettes, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps(JROTC), marching band and cars decorated by DHS clubs. “The art club, key club, author’s workers, library club, pet club, junior civitan, future nurses, dramatics club […] would all decorate the cars, and the classes would decorate the floats,” Bailey explained. The concept for the floats was about “beating the others” and didn’t follow any sort of theme. They were also significantly larger than today’s trailer-sized floats, as the school would receive several donations of larger vehicles and supplies. 

School spirit was always on display for the Friday pep rallies that everyone attended, but especially at the homecoming football games. “[JROTC] had a cannon, because of course you needed a cannon at some time to shoot when Decatur scored a touchdown,” Bailey said. After the games, the court would be unveiled, which included the queens and candidates for “Mr. Football”.

Crowd watches decorated convertibles.

Back then, the homecoming dance was one of many dances held after home games. Bailey mentioned that dances would spontaneously happen after football games. “There were a lot of bands in the 1960s because the band era hit, thanks to the Beatles. There were a number of bands within the school. It didn’t cost anything to get anyone to play… so [students] would play the music for the dance.” A few years before his attendance at DHS, a homecoming concert was added to highlight student musicians as well as other special guests. 

Anita Robinson, a current teacher at F.AVE, graduated from DHS in 1978. She was a part of the DHS drill team throughout high school, where she danced in the homecoming parade and performed at the football games. The drill team, alongside cheerleaders and majorettes, largely contributed to the lively atmosphere of the events. “[Homecoming] gave me a good feeling [knowing] that my team would perform in front of alumni,” Robinson said. 

She and her friends were always enthusiastic about float building and the homecoming court selections. Much like today’s process, she and her peers spent the entire week constructing tissue-papered trailers at a classmate’s house. “I was excited to see who would be the grade level queen, so my friends and I would rally around that person to cheer them on,” she said.

Graduate of the class of 1999 and current assistant principal at DHS, Wes Hatfield recalled his homecoming experiences as fun and relaxed, specifically because of the lack of antics that came with homecoming week nowadays. A DJ would accompany the dance, and themed spirit days were popular. According to Hatfield, float building was still one of the most notable events, and because it was student-led, some floats were impressive while others were “not-so-great”. “There was definitely float building, and the parade was a big thing, but there was no inter-class pranking of any kind, no going around, throwing stuff at people’s houses, none of that existed. All of that started between when I graduated from high school and when I came back to work here in 2008.” 

Casey Todd, class of 2016 graduate and current coach of the DHS cross country and track teams, also remembered some of the more recent class mischiefs that comes with homecoming week. Egging houses and cars, and instances of tagging throughout the week, among other things have been subject to strict administrative attention since the 2000s. “One year, we had a big bonfire in the upper parking lot. We were all excited […] but then they announced to us during the bonfire that we weren’t going to have a homecoming, that the bonfire was it. Obviously that enraged everybody, but [admin] just kept saying privileges were lost [due to the bonfire],” Todd said, “It was a huge commotion, but after deliberation [admin] ended up giving us the dance.”

However time and time again, the undying spirit of homecoming has allowed its essential traditions to carry through decades of changes within the school, students, and community. “My classmates continue to meet at the homecoming games year after year,” Robinson said. “Homecoming has always been a huge deal in Decatur.” 

This year, due to weather conditions and other districts’ schedule changes, the homecoming football game occurred on Thursday, Sept. 29. The parade was the following day, and the dance was held in the gym on Saturday, Oct. 1. All of the events were as highly anticipated by the DHS and Decatur community as ever.