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K-State Today

January 24, 2013



Traditions tighten student, alumni bonds throughout Kansas State University history

By Communications & Marketing

Kansas State University is rich with long-standing traditions that have brought students, alumni and fans together throughout the university's 150-year history.

"Whether it be Call Hall ice cream, Willie the Wildcat, homecoming activities or the Royal Purple, traditions at K-State endure over the decades because they bring back fond memories of a time and place that connect us as a family," said Linda Cook, assistant vice president of communications for the K-State Alumni Association. "One of my favorite traditions is going to a K-State event and hearing the alma mater and 'Wildcat Victory,' our fight song. The melody and words of both take me back to the years when I was a student at K-State."

Here's a look at the some of the university's traditions:

* The tradition of Willie the Wildcat, the university's mascot, began in 1947, when Willie appeared at a football game against Oklahoma A&M University. Willie's look has evolved through the years, going from a red brown wildcat suit with black stripes and a tail in 1947, to today's head of gray fur with two white stripes, resembling the Powercat logo. Willie's own traditions include using his body to spell out the letters K, S and U in a popular cheer and doing pushups after the football Wildcats score. Also a tradition is that the identity of the student playing Willie is a secret.

* One of the university's more popular game traditions was sparked by tragedy. When a fire roared through Nichols Hall in 1968, the music department lost instruments and all its band music -- except for one piece that the band director had taken home with him. To this day, "The Wabash Cannonball" gets students and fans on their feet. And in recent years, students do the "Wabash dance," where they bend, clap and twist to the music.

"The 'Wabash dance' actually started about 1995 with the clarinet section of the marching band," said Frank Tracz, director of bands at K-State.

* The "KS" letters stand out high and proud on a hill entering Manhattan. They are a tradition quite literally set in stone. In 1921, engineering students plotted the 80-foot tall K then later added the S. Unfortunately, due to a ravine in the area, the U could never be added. Students still whitewash the letters every year to keep them white, bright and noticeable.

* Purple Power Play on Poyntz, one of the newest traditions, starts off the school year in late August or early September and celebrates the beginning of the football season. Purple Power Play on Poyntz was created in 1988 by a group of four community volunteers to welcome students back to downtown Manhattan and generate excitement for the K-State football team. Today it is one of the largest events in northeast Kansas. Fireworks, local cuisine and jamming out to the Kansas State University Marching Band are just some of the fun activities offered. On Manhattan's main downtown drag, this citywide celebration takes place on the Thursday and Friday nights before the first home football game.

* Another new tradition is the K-State Proud campaign of "students helping students." Sponsored by the Kansas State University Student Foundation through the Kansas State University Foundation, the annual student-led campaign has raised more than $550,000 to help students struggling financially. The campaign, which has been recognized nationally, features the sale of special T-shirts that fans wear at a designated men's basketball game.

* For a picture-perfect tradition, it's the Higinbotham Gate on the southeast corner of campus at North Manhattan and Anderson avenues. Particularly at graduation time it's common to find a new alum in gown and mortarboard or hood posing in front of the limestone and wrought iron structure with the university seal on the sidewalk ahead. The gate was added in 1989.

* As the times have changed, so have the university's traditions. Freshmen are probably happy the beanie tradition is no longer. Starting about 1912 and into the 1940s, Kansas State University freshmen were required to wear beanie caps to show their ranking. If they did not, they had to endure the good-humored consequences delivered by varsity athletes.

* Another event from the past was flash cards. Starting officially in 1957, members of the K-Block student section used flashcards to increase student participation at home football games. Members of the K-Block would be given a card, then wait until the signal from the yell leader on the field. They would then hold up their cards to create pictures in the stands.

* One of the university's longest-running traditions brings in thousands of people each year. The All-University Open House is the annual celebration that welcomes prospective students worldwide. The university's biggest event, open house's roots stretch back more than 90 years with events like Ag Day, Engineers' Open House and Home Economics Hospitality Day.

The first All-University Open House celebration was in 1969. The 2013 open house will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

"Traditions really are memories," Cook said. "Anywhere alumni walk on campus they will find a personal memory whether it be Anderson Hall, the Bluemont Bell, Memorial Stadium, or the Memorabilia Room in the Alumni Center."

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