Pep and perks: Wildcat Club returns to ACU

Wildcat Club Logo FC

ACU recently re-launched its official fundraising organization for Athletics, which dates back to the late 1920s.

In deciding what to call its new donation-generation organization, the Abilene Christian University Athletics program has opted for an oldie-but-goodie: the Wildcat Club.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Announced by director of athletics Lee De Leon on Jan. 27 and spearheaded by senior associate director of athletics Dave Kinard, the Wildcat Club will make it easy for alumni, fans and friends of ACU Athletics to give to the program. The more you give, the greater the rewards, such as first dibs on seats in the new football stadium, tickets and transportation to selected road games and other perks.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This latest incarnation hearkens back to Wildcat Clubs of old. Like Great Depression old. The Oct. 10, 1929, edition of The Optimist includes a story about a campus bonfire being lit (intentionally) by the “Loyal Wildcat Club,” a group created to “further the pep” among students. All were welcome and, in fact, expected to join.

In the late 1940s, another Wildcat Club formed, according to an April 1949 Optimist article, with a stated purpose of trying “to help the school in athletics as much as they possibly can.” Comprised of former letter winners and friends of the college, that version of the club staged events and funded a variety of projects that enhanced the department, including the conversion of a campus dormitory into student-athlete housing and the purchase of a new 14-passenger Mercury automobile to replace the broken down athletics bus affectionately known as the Grey Goose.

November 1952 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubIn 1950, the Wildcat Club commemorated the 25th year of A.B. Morris’ coaching tenure by hosting a banquet at the Hotel Windsor in downtown Abilene. The guest speaker for the evening was Morris’ former coach at Texas A&M University, Dana X. Bible.

In 1958, the club took on its boldest initiative to date: a $20,000 upgrade to the track stadium, which included the addition of two dressing rooms and a press box. Those were halcyon days for the Wildcat “cindermen,” so called because the track surface in those days was made of packed cinder. Two years prior, team member Bobby Morrow (’52) had won three Olympic gold medals in Melbourne, Australia, becoming one of the world’s most famous figures and inviting attention to Abilene Christian like the college had never experienced before. Among those who noticed was California quartermiler Earl Young who graduated in 1958 and two years later would earn an Olympic gold medal of his own.

Through the 1960s, the Wildcat Club sponsored ACU Athletics’ annual banquet, at which senior letter winners were presented a graduation gift. In the early 1970s, head football coach Wally Bullington (’51) launched a luncheon series at the Thunderbird Lodge to let Wildcat Club members and guests hear from assistant coaches and players each week during the season.

In the mid-1980s, the Lettermen’s Association was created in an attempt to keep former student-athletes better connected to and involved with the university. The Wildcat Club kept meeting each week during the football season well into the 1990s, but the Lettermen’s Association eventually became the program’s dues-paying organization and functioned as the club once did.

January 1958 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubUntil now. In December, ACU Athletics notified all former letter winners that the Lettermen’s Association will grant instant, automatic and free membership to anyone who played for the Purple and White. The purpose, like when the group was originally founded in 1986, will be to keep all Wildcats updated on the latest exploits of the current crop.

The Wildcat Club, thus, becomes the new fundraising vehicle for ACU Athletics. De Leon thinks the name has a ring to it. Hopefully several.

“Money raised from the Wildcat Club will absolutely determine wins and losses,” De Leon said. “The more our supporters give, the more resources our teams will have to compete for championships.”

Right now, the playing field on which Wildcat teams are competing isn’t level. For example, once ACU moved up from Division II to Division I in 2013, the number of scholarships it can award increased significantly. But can and will are two different matters.

Take football. In Division II, head coach Ken Collums had 36 scholarships to divvy up among his players. Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) schools are allowed 63. Good news, right? Right, but only if ACU can generate the money necessary to cover those extra 27 scholarships. Multiply 27 by the cost of tuition, room and board, and you begin to see the financial need. And that’s just football. The university has carefully invested in this Division I transition, but it can’t cover all of the costs and stay within budget.

And it shouldn’t have to. Every other university in the Southland Conference and nearly every other in Division I has a fundraising organization to raise money for scholarships, facilities and other projects. Now ACU has one of its own, and none too soon. Collums and other ACU coaches are entering most games with fewer scholarship players than their opponents, yet still finding ways to win at a remarkably successful clip. The women’s cross country team won a Southland Conference championship last fall. The women’s basketball team leads the league with four games to go. Imagine the results if each of the Wildcat teams were fully funded.

The goal for the Wildcat Club is to reach 500 members by June 1. That would be a great start, but think bigger. What if, through the Wildcat Club, former ACU football players banded together to get Collums up to 63 scholarships? What if former Wildcat basketball players created a fund to allow Julie Goodenough and Joe Golding (’99) to fly their teams to a couple of conference games a year so their players wouldn’t have to roll back in by bus from some distant Southland outpost just in time for an 8 a.m. class the next morning? Competing on the Division I level has already given ACU national exposure like it hasn’t seen since the days when Morrow and Young were winning Olympic gold. But with that exposure comes the need for fans of the university to step up in support.

Don’t misunderstand: ACU has always had generous donors, as evidenced by the recent lead gifts to construct Wildcat Stadium and install AstroTurf on the baseball and softball fields. But someone has to follow that lead. The Wildcat Club gives everyone who cares about ACU Athletics the opportunity to do that.

Everything old is new again.

Further the pep and join the club today!


Stadium to build a true home field advantage

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring Wildcat football back to the Hill. We’re doing it today,” said Abilene Christian University benefactor Mark Anthony (’86), drawing the biggest ovation of a sunny, warm February groundbreaking Friday that felt more like football season than a week removed from Valentine’s Day.

Head coach Ken Collums

Head coach Ken Collums

Feb. 19 was a day ACU football fans will love to look back upon: the start of something big and the continuation of a collegiate football legacy dating back nearly a century.

With the football team, cheerleaders, Big Purple Band and several hundred fans present at Wally Bullington Football Practice Facility, the start of long-awaited construction on Wildcat Stadium was celebrated Friday with speeches made and shovels of dirt turned over, symbolically, as a collegiate football program’s new leaf.

ACU first played football in 1919 but hasn’t regularly hosted games on campus since the 1942 season. For 56 years, its home games have been played several miles away at the Abilene Independent School District’s Shotwell Stadium.

Mark’s wife, trustee April (Bullock ’89) Anthony, told ACU Today magazine in 2014 of sitting next to president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) a year earlier during the Homecoming game, following conversations with her husband about helping build a true home field advantage for the football team and changing the campus gameday atmosphere.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington, head coach of ACU's 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington (’53), head coach of ACU’s 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

She leaned over and told Schubert, “Man, I sure am tired of driving down the street from campus to get to the football stadium.”

Soon after, the Anthonys resolved to make a cornerstone contribution of $15 million to the project, part of their ACU-record gift of $30 million. Games at the new Wildcat Stadium will be played on Anthony Field.

The ceremony also included comments from Schubert, athletics director Lee De Leon, sophomore linebacker Sam Denmark and head coach Ken Collums. Sophomore defensive back Quinten Bryant and board chair Dr. Barry Packer (’78) led prayers.

Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony

“Wildcat Stadium will have an impact on countless people for decades and decades to come,” said Collums. “I can almost hear third down right now. It’s going to be awesome.”

Schubert said David (’78) and Kathy (Gay ’78) Halbert also have recently made a significant gift to the stadium in honor of David’s lifelong friend, the late All-America defensive back Chuck Sitton (’77).

“ACU is in our DNA and we are proud to be ACU graduates,” Anthony said, giving credit to Bob and Kay Onstead for showing he and April “how to give and how to give humbly. They demonstrated a Christian principle to us, with an unselfish heart.”

Anthony cited three reasons why giving to the Vision in Action initiative and the football stadium, in particular, is important.

“First, we love ACU and know this university was instrumental in preparing us for the rest of our lives. ACU equipped us spiritually, socially, intellectually, and it showed us the power of Christian fellowship. We want others to experience what we experienced,” Anthony said.

“Second, we believe in having a first-class facility that matches the quality of our faculty, our staff and our students here on campus. This is going to be a first-class facility,” he said.

“And finally, we hope and pray that our giving will inspire the next generation and future generations to make their own notable contributions as servant-leaders to this university.”

As construction begins, fundraising continues on Wildcat Stadium. To contribute, visit the online giving site.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field. The venue will be on Ambler Avenue, just west of Judge Ely Boulevard and Crutcher Scott Field.


ACU Remembers: Earline Perry

Earline Perry 600x400 96Susie Earline (Davidson ’48) Perry passed away Feb. 19, 2016, in Abilene, Texas, at age 88.

A memorial service will be held at University Church of Christ on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 2 p.m. Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut St., 79602) are assisting the family in the memorial and graveside services. Visitation with the family will be at a reception in the University Church of Christ MAC after the memorial service. A private graveside service will be held Monday at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Abilene.

Earline was born Nov. 3, 1927, in Wichita Falls, Texas, where she attended grade school before graduating from Rusk (Texas) High School. She married Dr. Lowell G. Perry (’47) on June 10, 1947, in Abilene. She studied at Texas University and Abilene Christian University before finishing a bachelor’s degree in English and business in 1948 from Indiana State University, where Lowell was working on a master’s degree in speech. Later, she taught at Draughon’s Business College in Abilene and was an instructor of business administration at ACU. She worked on a master’s degree in missions at Abilene Christian and taught from 1970-74 in its summer missions workshop. She was a successful real estate agent in Abilene for 22 years, retiring in 2000.

During ACU’s May 2013 Commencement, Earline received ACU’s Dale and Rita Brown Outlive Your Life Award. She served many years on the Board of Directors for World Christian Broadcasting Corporation, helping advance her husband’s dream and her own desire of spreading the gospel throughout the world via shortwave radio. Lowell died in a plane crash in 1977 near the island of Martinique while scouting a broadcast site in the Caribbean. He taught in ACU’s Department of Communication for more than two decades, founding the campus radio station and the broadcast program now overseen by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Earline was a longtime member of University Church of Christ in Abilene, where she mentored other women, was a member of prayer group that had met weekly for more than 45 years, and was known for her personal ministry of encouragement. Her love of missions, fostered by exploring Europe in 1950 and by living in Brazil with her husband from 1965-67, was a lifelong passion.

She was preceded in death by her parents, M.E. and Susie (Wright) Davidson; Lowell, her husband of 29 years; and a sister, EuAlice (Davidson ’57) McMillan and brother-in-law Dr. Earle McMillan (’55).

Earline is survived by two sons, David Perry (’73) and his wife, Vonnie (Southern ’74), of Abilene, and Greg Perry (’83) and his wife, Jana, of Nashville, Tennessee; a daughter, Susan Perry (’77) of Abilene; grandchildren Heather (Perry ’00) Gentileschi, Rosalyn (Perry ’06) Haug, Camille (Perry ’06) Acosta, Seth Perry, and great-grandchildren Kate and Gracie Gentileschi, Isabella, Madelyn, and Amelia Quinn Haug and Sofia and Sebastian Acosta.

Memorials may be made to World Christian Broadcasting (605 Bradley Court, Franklin, TN 37067).


Sing Song turns 60: ‘The Lord Bless You’

Sing Song Saturday night 600x400 96As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top men’s social club, women’s social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

When nearly 5,000 people raise their a cappella voices in song with the first chords of The Lord Bless You and Keep You, an ethereal exclamation point punctuates the conclusion of each Sing Song show in Moody Coliseum.

“Everybody singing The Lord Bless You and Keep You at the end of Sing Song is one of our greatest traditions,” said Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52), vice president emeritus and founder, creator and former director of ACU Sing Song.

“I feel like I’ve just experienced a taste of what heaven will be like” is often heard among guests, he said.

Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64), vice president of the university who also directed Sing Song for nine consecutive shows, said he has heard reactions among guests ranging from “I feel like I just sat in a room with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” to “I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life.”

“It is unforgettable,” McCaleb said. “In its truest sense, the finale is a celebration of community.” And experiencing that tangible manifestation of community deepens the understanding of what students experience at ACU – an experience that continues beyond their years as a student.

“Getting everybody back on campus for Sing Song is a thrilling thing,” Hunter said. In recent years, Sing Song has offered four shows: a Thursday night preview and performances on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. About 75 percent of the 9,000 guests who watch the event each year are alumni.

“We’ve had people come back to Sing Song, and it’s helped them renew their interest in the university,” Hunter said. “It has such a great PR factor, and it serves as a great opportunity for class reunions.”

Reunions are now driven in part by some of the Sing Song processes. Thirty judges are utilized throughout the group evaluation process during any one year, and alumni who were actively involved in the Sing Song process 10, 20 and 30 years ago are some of the first to receive invitations to serve as judges.

Along with a large alumni demographic in the audience, Hunter said Sing Song is a great opportunity to bring guests to ACU, especially prospective students.

McCaleb said, “We hear stories over and over again from people who say, ‘The moment I knew I wanted to come to ACU was when I saw Sing Song.’ ”

But while the audience experience is great, the student one surpasses it.

“It’s a real time of bonding for the students,” McCaleb said. “Even in the midst of the competition, there’s a feeling of ‘look what we’ve done together!’ That rises far above any elements of competition.”

See previous posts in this series:

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Sing Song turns 60: The 1990s and 2000s

The senior class brought The Wizard of Oz to life in 2013.

The senior class brought The Wizard of Oz to life in 2013.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top men’s social club, women’s social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

If Sing Song focused on creativity-in-song in the 1980s, then one could say the curtain dropped for creativity-on-stage as the show rolled into the 1990s and 2000s.

The senior class in 2013 perform as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.

The senior class in 2013 performs as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion.

The curtain literally started dropping on Sing Song acts in the late ’80s. In 1987, students voted to purchase a curtain for the Sing Song stage in Moody Coliseum, allowing each act to be opened and closed with the fabric’s rise and fall.

“The curtain makes a world of difference for acts on stage,” said Dodd Roberts (’86), four-year co-director for his class.

Prior to adding the curtain, groups entered and exited the stage in the dark. Most people didn’t notice because their eyes were focused on the host and hostess performing on the lower stage, but without a curtain, elaborate props and sets were more difficult to manuever seamlessly.

Sigma Theta Chi member and 2007 co-chair Caddie Coupe (’07) said one of her best memories involved setting her club’s act on stage behind the curtain her junior year. Club members used the stairs on one side of the stage and constructed a slide covering the steps. During the act, penguins slid from the top of the stage to the bottom.

Penguins from Sigma Theta Chi slid down the Sing Song stage in 2006.

Penguins from Sigma Theta Chi slid down the Sing Song stage in 2006.

“The crowd loved it!” Coupe said. “You could hear the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s as Siggies went down the slide.” She explained the concept was designed to replicate penguins sliding in the snow in Antarctica.

From the early days of singing rounds between acts, student creativity spurred more student creativity. Coupe said, “I think the penguin slide encouraged other groups to think outside the box. It helped them realize that props could help tell their story rather than just set the stage.”

Those creative exercises continued and peaked with another group: the Class of 2013. Nick Tatum (’13) directed the ensemble for four years, and they won each time, achieving the ever-elusive clean sweep victory for classes.

Tatum directed his class as the British Royal Guard his freshman year, cupids his sophomore year, Moses and the children of Israel his junior year and The Wizard of Oz his senior year.

“We actually studied videos of old acts to see what worked,” Tatum said.

Moses and the Israelites starred in the 2012 performance of the junior class.

Moses and the Israelites starred in the 2012 performance of the junior class.

The seniors’ Oz act was a triumph for the four-year winning streak and set a new standard for creativity. The act mimicked the iconic 1939 movie of the same name, starting in simple shades of black and white. A two-dimensional house was set at the front of the stage with the singers behind it, and seconds later, a tornado blew the house away, revealing the full group. As the song continued, black-and-white costumes were discarded to turn singers into full-color munchkins. Then, munchkin costumes were discarded to reveal four colorful sections representing Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. The crowd roared at the sight. The act concluded with Tatum changing costumes himself, turning from the Wicked Witch of the West to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.

Today, elaborate backdrops and props continue to push beyond traditional limits of creativity. Groups don’t just focus on costumes, but on costume changes in mid-act. Songs continue to be creative, but song selection is now strategic, as groups consider which tunes will play best to the audience. And now, special effects are added when possible, whether confetti, streamers or the like.

Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52) laughed when he said Sing Song has come a long way since that first show he directed in 1957. “My, oh my,” he said.

“Today’s costuming and stage props are just amazing to me,” he said. “The really outstanding thing, though, is how our groups went from singing songs as they were written to creating complicated medleys of songs and then writing their own lyrics to be clever and funny. That is truly amazing to me.”

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The junior class in 2012.

The junior class in 2012.

The sophomore class in 2011 portrayed Cupids on Valentine's Day.

The sophomore class in 2011 portrayed Cupids on the Sing Song stage.

Junior class Cupids in 2011.

Junior class Cupids in 2011.


Sing Song turns 60: The 1980s

1983 Sing Song Freshmen 600x300 96

A Pac-Man theme for the freshman class of 1983 featured battery-powered Christmas lights to help animate their performance.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top mens social club, womens social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

Pac-Man, Princess Diana, MTV – the 1980s were all about shaping a new world for young people, and while culture change was rampant worldwide, a new force was making its mark on Sing Song at ACU: the Class of 1986.

They lit up the Sing Song stage like never before as freshmen in 1983. That also was the first year Jeff Nelson (’79) served as director of Sing Song.

Hunter (right) reacts to news that his senior class has achieved Sing Song's first clean sweep – winning four straight years.

Hunter (right) and others nearby react to news their senior class has achieved Sing Song’s first clean sweep – winning four straight years.

Director Les Hunter (’86) and his class devised a Pac-Man video game theme, and on stage they used clear battery-powered Christmas lights in tubes to create elements reminiscent of the game screen. It was the first time a group incorporated on-stage lighting as a prop element. They also created flip-panel costumes so they could move boards up and down, contagion-style, and simulate video game movement.

Hunter’s behind-the-scenes assistant, Dodd Roberts (’86) said, “Pac-Man was so unique – it was way outside the box for what a Sing Song act had done up until that point.”

As a winning act, Pac Man set the stage for the class to repeat that win their sophomore, junior and senior years, with no ties. In the Sing Song mixed-voices competition, that’s called a clean sweep, and it was the first time in Sing Song history for a class to achieve it.

The father of Les Hunter (right) is Sing Song's founder: Dr. Robert D. “Bob" Hunter.

The father of Les Hunter (right) is Sing Song’s founder: Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter.

Along with Pac-Man, themes for the class of 1986 included Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (and their kids, the tater tots,) Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, and Adam and Eve.

Roberts said, “We joked that someone always got married in our shows – even Pac-Man had Ms. Pac-Man.”

Along with the jokes, Roberts said, competitors started to develop characters and storylines with their acts. At that time, clubs and classes didn’t change costumes on stage, but they started switching and adding elements to enhance the stories, such as eyes and noses on potatoes and a large bandage on Adam’s side where a rib went missing. “The ’80s were all about costumes and songs,” he said.

That held true with other groups, too. Notorious for not taking the concept of rehearsing too seriously, the men of Sub T-16 won the men’s division as Cabbage Patch dolls in 1984, complete with crepe paper wigs on their heads that, strangely enough, made them look a lot like the iconic toys.

Sophomores in 1987 broke new ground with illuminated costumes as Broadway Bumblebees.

Sophomores in 1987 broke new ground with illuminated costumes as Broadway Bumblebees.

Then in 1987, the sophomore class pushed costuming to another level of creativity – integrating electric Christmas lights into their costumes as Broadway Bumblebees. Each costume contained a strand of string-along lights. Bumblebee Amy (Talbot ’89) McAlister explained that each participant plugged a strand of lights into the strand on the adjacent person; then extension cords ran from the stage down the stairs to an electrical outlet in the concourse. Another student connected and unplugged the cord to make the lights go on and off at the appropriate times. “Those were fun times,” McAlister said.

Roberts said fun was the priority for the Class of 1986. “Les never talked about winning,” Roberts recalled. “It was always about having fun. And we never really thought about the competition until dress rehearsal.”

One dress rehearsal in particular proved to be an outstanding memory for the Class of 1986: their sophomore year as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Lucille Ball made the Lucy character iconic on the popular “I Love Lucy” TV show, and the class invited the actress to attend Sing Song. Her agent declined the invitation, but the week of the show, Hunter received a telegram from Beverly Hills, Calif., in which Ball wished them well in their performances. He read the telegram to the class prior to going on stage for the Saturday night finale:

Dear Les:

I love the sophomore class at Abilene Christian University. A little birdie told me that you have produced a “We Love Lucy” entry for the ACU annual Sing Song benefit show, and I want you to know this redhead is rootin’ for you to wow the audience and take home the trophy.

Nothing makes me happier than to know that Lucy and Ricky live on in the hearts of great kids like you.

I wish I could be there to personally cheer you on. But I know that you will do your very best and make everyone proud. You can do it.

With love, Lucille Ball

Roberts said his classmates’ reaction was over the top. So was their performance. “It was truly magical,” he said.

Hunter, Roberts and the Class of 1986 set new standards for Sing Song groups for years to come. Little did they know their creativity would become a gold standard in the production. The greatest thing, though, was how their efforts strengthened the bonds among their classmates.

“Even though our class was 800 to 900 people, and we just had 100 on stage, there was some level of pride among everybody,” Roberts said. “It was definitely a unifying factor. We had a ton of fun, and we all still talk about it today.”

See all posts in this series:

The seniors in 1986 won with their portrayal of Adam and Eve. Note the oversized bandage on each man's side, symbolic of God's removal of a rib during creation.

The seniors in 1986 won with their portrayal of Adam and Eve. 

Hunter leads his class of Mr. Potato Heads during a dress rehearsal.

Hunter leads his class of Potato Heads during a dress rehearsal.

Kelly and Dodd Roberts work on Potato Head costumes in 1985.

Kelly (’86) and Dodd (’86) Roberts work on Potato Head costumes.

Broadway Bumblebees during a dress rehearsal in 1987 in Moody.

The electrically charged Broadway Bumblebees rocked Moody in 1987.


Sing Song turns 60: The 1970s

Pop music star Pat Boone and his family performed on Saturday night at Sing Song in 1970, which was televised live in Abilene by KTXS-TV.

Pop music star Pat Boone and his family performed on Saturday night at Sing Song in 1970, which was televised live in Abilene.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top mens social club, womens social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

ACU students’ creativity thrived during the 1970s, and (for better or worse) Sing Song was a perfect outlet for that creative thought process.

The show was permanently located in its new home – Moody Coliseum – and everything seemed bigger and better in Moody. The show was televised in 1970 and 1971 on KTXS-TV.

Pop music icon Pat Boone served as celebrity host for the Saturday night performance in 1970, joined on stage by his wife and four daughters (including future three-time Grammy winner Debby Boone.)

Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64) directed the show in 1970 (and continued through 1972.) The scoring process for competition was tabulated by hand in those days, and often took 30 minutes or so. During that process, special guests or celebrity hosts would sing for students and guests while waiting for the results to be delivered.

1975 Sing Song co-chairs David Little (’__) and Liz Campbell (’__), and director Herb Butrum (’__).

1975 Sing Song co-chairs David Litton and Liz Campbell, and director Herb Butrum.

By the 1971 show, the Moody Coliseum/Sing Song relationship was solidified with the creation of what is now known as the Sing Song stage.

Originally, Moody had continuous seating around the coliseum, but a section of chairs on the north end was removed and carpeted for the 1971 show to create a permanent tiered stage. While this was great for large groups to use while singing, it also allowed room for movement, and space for props and backdrops. This permanent fixture has become iconic on campus – now referred to as “the Sing Song stage.”

As groups found their footing on their new stage, creativity continued to flow, but all creativity was not so positive.

During the 1971 Saturday night show, an anonymous person notified ACU officials a bomb has been placed in Moody Coliseum. The call came just after 10 p.m., and about 4,000 guests were evacuated. Moody was searched, then the crowd returned for the conclusion of the show. The threat was determined to be a prank.

“We asked people to go to the Campus Center,” McCaleb said. “And without a bit of problem, the entire crowd calmly filed out. It was truly an amazing thing.” ACU’s student newspaper, The Optimist, reported that Moody was evacuated in 10 minutes.

With Sing Song, everything tended to have a dramatic flair – even a bomb scare. “When the show resumed, as timing would have it, the next group performed a patriotic medley. The crowd erupted,” McCaleb said. “I don’t ever remember an ovation as big.”

Creativity continued in new directions. Clubs and classes began writing their own words to popular tunes and began experimenting with unique musical arrangements. In 1972, the freshman class came up with another unique twist for their act, “Let’s All Sing Like Birdies Sing.”

Class member Liz (Campbell ’75) Rotenberry said the freshmen took multiple songs and created a medley of tunes. That was new and unique in 1972, but it started a trend that continues today – splicing together popular tunes into one arrangement.

After McCaleb completed his ninth show in 1972, the reins were passed to Herb Butrum (’71) for the 1973 show. Butrum continued directing for five shows.

University president Dr. John C. Stevens (’38) looks on as Students' Association president Kelly Utsinger speaks about the Sing Song controversy in 1975.

University president Dr. John C. Stevens (’38) looks on as Students’ Association president Kelly Utsinger speaks about the Sing Song controversy in 1975.

Rotenberry went on to be a Sing Song co-chair with David Litton (’75) for the 1975 show. Co-chair is the highest student leadership position in the Sing Song structure. That year had its own dramatic flair. Due to disgruntlement among students concerning a canceled concert, Students’ Association president Kelly Utsinger (’75) called for a boycott of Sing Song. The administration responded by saying students could choose not to participate and necessary adjustments could be made. In the end, students voted to take part, and they performed to the largest Sing Song audience up to that time.

“It was not fun to deal with that,” Rotenberry said. “We were relieved that students decided to participate, and we had a great show.”

In 1976, a three-show format was introduced, but more significant that year, senior director Dale Martin (’76) and his class won the overall mixed-voices category, making them winners their freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years, although they tied with another class their sophomore year. In Sing Song lingo, that’s called a sweep.

The reins were transferred again in 1978, with John Duty (’74) taking the role of Sing Song director to oversee five consecutive shows. And as the 1970s melted into the 1980s, the creative pushes gave way to more defined Sing Song rules, giving the show more structure for future generations.

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Sing Song 1976 coincided with Abilene's Bicentennial. Here, Butrum, Abilene Bicentennial Committee representative Bob McCathren, Dr. Robert D. "Bob" Hunter (’52) and McCaleb share the stage.

Sing Song 1976 coincided with Abilene’s Bicentennial. Here, Butrum, Abilene Bicentennial Committee representative Bob McCathren, Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52) and McCaleb share the stage.

1976 Sing Song hosts and hostesses (from left) John Vaughn (’76), Cindy (Blanton ’76) Zahodnik, Janna (Hopson ’77) Rosier and Darren Lackey (’76), and director Herb Butrum.

Hosts and hostesses for Sing Song 1976 were (from left) John Vaughn (’76), Cindy (Blanton ’76) Zahodnik, Janna (Hopson ’77) Rosier and Darren Lackey (’76), pictured here with director Herb Butrum.

1976 Sing Song Sat Night 600x400 96

Saturday night finale at Sing Song in 1976.

1978 Sing Song hosts and hostesses rehearse on roller skates (from left): Jeff Nelson (’79), Colleen (Smith ’76) Crawford, Holly Dunn (’79) and Don Piper (’78).

1978 Sing Song hosts and hostesses rehearse on roller skates (from left): Jeff Nelson (’79), Colleen (Smith ’76) Crawford, Holly Dunn (’79) and Don Piper (’78).


Sing Song turns 60: The 1960s

GATA participants in Sing Song 1967

GATA participants in Sing Song 1967

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top mens social club, womens social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64), vice president of the university, aptly describes Friday Praise Day Chapel in Moody Coliseum as a favorite time of each week for ACU students.

Dr. Gary McCaleb was Sing Song director from 1964-1973.

Dr. Gary McCaleb was Sing Song director from 1964-72.

“It’s a favorite because we primarily sing the entire time,” he said. “We love to sing!” And that, he said, is one of the contributing factors to the continuing success of ACU Sing Song.

McCaleb can remember watching Sing Song in Sewell Auditorium as a young man. The auditorium seating was divided into three sections – a large center section with two aisles on either side and sections flanking those aisles.

When Sing Song was in Sewell, he said the student groups who performed sat in the side sections while the audience members sat in the center section. One group would perform, then return to their seats while another group moved from the floor to the stage.

In the late 1950s, the timing was right for Sing Song. “Our heritage with a cappella music and the fact that we were called “The Singing College” made Sing Song a natural fit,” he said.

Dr. Gary McCaleb's administrative career at ACU has now spanned 51 years.

Dr. Gary McCaleb’s administrative career at ACU has now spanned 51 years.

“We couldn’t quit singing,” he added with a chuckle. During the transitions of one group returning to their seats while another moved on stage, students in the audience would conspire to start some sort of a creative ditty – and another – and another. Spontaneous eruptions of song were the norm.

“Did you ever see a racehorse, a racehorse, a racehorse?” McCaleb sang, remembering the ditties from those early days that were typically sung in rounds. “Students would think hard to come up with a more creative verse than the last.”

With the night full of songs from the stage and more from the floor, McCaleb described one major obstacle with Sing Song in Sewell: The size of the auditorium was woefully small. To help remedy that situation, Sing Song relocated to Abilene High School’s larger auditorium in 1962.

In 1964, McCaleb went from being a student to joining the ACU staff, with Sing Song as one of his responsibilities. The 1964 show was the first of nine he directed, making him one of the longest-tenured Sing Song directors in history.

“Every time the show made a physical transformation, it seemed to take a natural turn with new developments,” he said. In the Abilene High auditorium, the student groups sat in the balcony, and starting rounds of songs as they did in the more intimate Sewell Auditorium didn’t work as well. So the student host and hostess who served as emcees started the ditties, and soon the ditties became songs, and the modern concept of host and hostess emerged.

Sing Song 1971 hosts and hostesses: (from left) Philip Burton, Margaret Clayton, Jody Martin and Dennis Beaver

Sing Song 1971 hosts and hostesses: (from left) Philip Burton, Margaret Clayton, Jody Martin and Dennis Beaver

“Before too long, the host and hostess were singing with a drummer, a bass and a piano on stage,” he explained. That was 1967. Student participation had grown to about 800 students at that time.

By 1968, more change was in the air. A new modern structure was being built on campus: Moody Coliseum. The last Sing Song at Abilene High took place in 1968, and the show moved back to campus in 1969.

In its new venue, the show took another turn, this time driven by the freshman class. Groups performed on choral risers on the floor, and the freshmen performed an act based on “The Wizard of Oz.”

“They started with ‘We-e-e-e’re off to see the wizard!’” McCaleb said. “They held out that ‘we’re’ and when they hit the word ‘off,’ they started swinging their arms and marching in place, and the audience went wild!” For the first time, a Sing Song group integrated choreography with singing.

The transition to Moody pushed students to be more creative and innovative, McCaleb said: “Everyone was trying to do something more, something bigger and better.”

He recalled 1971 with hosts and hostesses Dennis Beaver (’66), Margaret (Clayton ’71) Erling, Phillip Burton (’72) and Jody (Martin ’72) Rabon. They performed the Roger Miller song “You Can’t Roller Skate Through a Buffalo Herd.”

“They put on roller skates, and skated and sang across the stage with follow spotlights,” McCaleb said. “Then, they got down on the floor and skated through the audience singing. The crowd loved it.” Again, audience reaction raised the bar for future students to be even more creative.

“In memorable moments like that you could actually see the course of Sing Song changing,” McCaleb said.

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Men's club Phi Delta Psi performed "Casey Jones” at Sing Song 1965.

Men’s club Phi Delta Psi performed “Casey Jones” at Sing Song 1965.

Women's club Zeta Rho prepares backstage to perform in Sing Song 1966.

Women’s club Zeta Rho prepares backstage to perform in Sing Song 1966.

Men's club Knights performed “Coney Island Baby" at Sing Song 1968.

Men’s club Knights performed “Coney Island Baby” at Sing Song 1968.


Sing Song turns 60: How it all began

The building bearing his name – Hunter Welcome Center – befits Bob's character and demeanor .

The ACU building bearing his name – Hunter Welcome Center – befits Bob’s character and welcoming demeanor as an Abilene Christian University icon.

As a rich tradition since 1956, about one-third of Abilene Christian University’s student body participates in Sing Song each year, during which a top mens social club, womens social club and mixed-voices group are crowned for having the best song medley. Over the next few days, we’ll look at highlights from six decades of this popular event.

Most people call him Bob.

In formal settings, he’s Dr. Robert D. Hunter (’52), but for most folks associated with ACU, he’s simply and affectionately known as Bob. For a very specific group, though, he’s something more: He’s known as the founder and creator of one of ACU’s most colorful traditions. He’s the father of Sing Song.

“He’s a visionary,” said Nick Tatum (’13), four-time class Sing Song director, who as a student never knew Bob, although he refers to him as Dr. Hunter. But Tatum knows well what he created.

As an ACU student in the early 1950s, Bob wanted to do two things: start an all-school sing song and a large scale Homecoming musical. “But we never got approval,” he said. “(The administration) was leery of a Broadway show, and they were leery of what students would do if we opened a sing song!”

Hunter was ACU's first alumni director.

Hunter returned to ACU with plenty of ideas for how to promote and grow his alma mater.

After graduation and service in the U.S. Navy, ACU president Dr. Don H. Morris (’24) asked Bob to coordinate an alumni event in Washington, D.C., and he did – with gusto. Bob did such a great job that Morris told him he had to come work at ACU as a special events director.

Bob’s plan was to return to California to be in business with family members, but Morris pulled out a carrot. “He convinced me by telling me if I came back, I could start a Sing Song AND a Homecoming Musical,” Bob recalled.

So Bob returned to ACU in Fall 1956, and by February 1957, ACU experienced its first Sing Song. To assure Morris that students wouldn’t get away with “anything they wanted” in the show, Bob asked former classmate Dr. William J. Teague (’52) who was then working as ACU’s assistant to the president, to serve as emcee for the show.

“We learned a lot that first year,” Bob said. “While Bill Teague did a great job as emcee, we realized right away it should be students in those roles.”

They also realized they needed categories for competition, he said. The men’s and women’s divisions appeared the second year, and the mixed-voice division was added the third year.

As the learning curve flattened, Sing Song was on its way to being one of the jewels in ACU’s crown of traditions.

Hunter and William Johnson helped lead the Alumni Office in the 1950s.

Hunter (left) and William Johnson helped lead the Alumni Office in its early years. Johnson took over for Hunter as the director for Sing Song in 1963. 

The show began in Sewell Auditorium – sporting a hyphen in its name as Sing-Song – and continued there a few years, but space was an issue. In 1963, Sing Song moved to the Abilene High School auditorium to accommodate a larger crowd. That same year Bob relinquished the reins as show director to William Johnson (’53), then in 1964 Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64) took the mantle as show director.

“Bob Hunter was the catalyst,” Tatum said. “His dream of creating a competition has unified ACU students around the bonding power of music.” Tatum saw this first-hand as a class director who won all four years with no ties. In Sing Song lore, that’s been dubbed a clean sweep. It’s only happened three times in our history. The other two directors who accomplished that were Matt Moreland (’98) and Bob’s son, Les Hunter (’86).

Everybody knew of “the singing college” in the 1950s, Bob said, and he saw Sing Song as a great vehicle for people to experience that: “The fact that we’re the singing college, and our kids love to sing – that’s what’s kept us going!”

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Softball games a big hit with baseball alums

AlumBBall-098 600x180 96If one of the signs of a solid NCAA Division I baseball program is the strength of its alumni support (and it is), then Abilene Christian University’s baseball program rounded third and headed home Saturday with a successful new spin on an old format that scored big with its alums.

Sherri Scott

Sherri Scott (’96) – joined by her sister, Susan (Scott ’98) Bennett and Susan’s daughter, Tori – reads a heartfelt message from the family of the late Al (’61) and Dottie Scott. Sherri and Susan’s grandfather, the late Crutcher Scott (’24), is the namesake of ACU’s Scott Field.

Nearly 60 Wildcats returned to play in a pair of softball games, cheered by an enthusiastic crowd while the smoker-grill in the right field corner prepared hot dogs and jalapeno sausage. It was a day with the feel of a family holiday: picnic, cookout and spirited ball games on a sunny, crisp afternoon.

At many other Division I universities where baseball is played, an annual game(s) is staged on campus to draw back former student-athletes and fans who enjoy celebrating the program’s history. It has been a decade since ACU hosted alumni games for its baseball program, a gap created by a similar one in history. The sport was not played at Abilene Christian from 1979 to 1991, causing alumni games – played previously at Homecoming in October – to feel the absence of what would have been half a generation of players during the program’s 13-year hiatus.

Mike Elkerson (’___) high-fives other alumni following his game.

Mike Elkerson (’08) high-fives other alumni following the game.

Head coach Britt Bonneau, who is starting his 20th season at ACU, has his team playing competitively with some of the best in college baseball each year, preparing for post-season eligibility in 2018. He revived the Alumni Game tradition this spring, changing the format from baseball to slow-pitch softball, and the early response from four generations of former players appears to be a roaring success.

One game featured alums who played from 2000 to 2015, while another included those who played from the 1950s to 1999. The most senior players competing Saturday were 82-year-old Jim Armstrong (’59), 76-year-old Dr. Nedom Muns (’61) and 73-year-old Sam Carpenter (’64).

Steve Montfort (’__)

Steve Montfort (’92)

The roster also included a number of Wildcats who starred on or propelled teams from the early 1990s through 2010 to conference titles, regular appearances in the Division II regional tournament and one College World Series: Jerod Hyde (’96), Ronnie Haring (’97), Cody Salyers (’98), Mike Elkerson (’08), Milwaukee Brewers’ 2008 seventh-round draft choice Trey Watten (’09) and Ryan Barker (’06), to name just a few.

Also competing Saturday was Seth Spivey (’14), a slugging catcher-turned-second baseman drafted in the 10th round by the Texas Rangers. Spivey was named first team All-Southland Conference as a senior and been impressive in two minor league seasons thus far.

Both alumni games were played concurrently on each end of Scott Field, which this season features an all-AstroTurf surface for the first time.

ACU opens its home season Feb. 19 against the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. Last year the Wildcats dropped four one-run decisions to Top 20 teams. This season their schedule includes five 2015 national tournament qualifiers: Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, Dallas Baptist and Houston Baptist universities.

Steve Montfort

Steve Montfort (’92), Jason West (’93), Seth Spivey (’14), Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64) and his son, Bryan McCaleb (’94)

______ and Ronny Haring

Kristian Allen (’00) and Ronny Haring (’97)

Ron Hadfield (’79), Brian Burton (’79), Tim Johnston (’80), Judd White (’82) and Victor Garcia (’79)

Ron Hadfield (’79), Brian Burton (’80), Tim Johnston (’80), Judd White (’82) and Victor Garcia (’78)

Dr. Nedom Muns (’61)

Dr. Nedom Muns (’61)

Jim Armstrong (’59) avoids a ground ball while running from second to third base.

Jim Armstrong (’59) avoids a ground ball while running from second to third base.

Chris Hall (’__) and Sean Nourie (’__)

Chris Hall (’10) and Sean Nourie (’08)

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Kevin Thompson (’96), Jerod Hyde (’96), Brad Bardin (’97), Ronny Haring (’97) and Brandon Sisco (’95) 

Assistant coach Brandon Stover (’__) greets players.

Assistant coach Brandon Stover (’02) greets players.