HOUSTON—Keeping a tradition alive, especially one that started more than 100 years ago, can be hard.
And now that the November football game against Texas is history, due to Texas A&M moving to the Southeastern Conference, has the time come for the Aggie Bonfires to stop?
“We don’t need Texas to do this tradition, to have this kind of fun,” said Senior Red Pot Patrick Bailey, one of the students in charge of Bonfire 2012.
But for decades the battle cry of Bonfire was, “Beat the hell outta T.U.” Aggies refer to the University of Texas as “T.U.”
These days the battle cry is, “Build the hell outta Bonfire,” and “Burn the hell outta Bonfire.”
“We build something by hand together. Look at this thing. That’s marvelous,” said Emalee Hamilton, a freshman working on Bonfire for the first time.
“Once you get into Bonfire, Bonfire gets into you,” said Dion McInnis, a Bonfire board member.
Students we talked to on campus did not express a lot of enthusiasm for the off-campus student led Bonfire. One questioned the ecological ramifications; although those in charge of Bonfire said the required trees come from land that private owners planned to clear any way. Student Bonfire organizers said it is actually more ecological to clear the land by hand instead of with bulldozers.
Death itself did not kill Bonfire. On November 18, 1999 at 2:42 in the morning, a 60-foot tall Bonfire collapsed. It was obscene what tons of logs did to the bodies of 11 students and one former student who were working on the stack.
An investigation uncovered catastrophic safety lapses. Texas A&M officials decided there would never be another Bonfire built on campus. A quiet memorial now stands at the site to honor the dead.
But after a few years, a group resurrected Bonfire, off campus. They began with a glorified heap in 2002. In 2003, the group organized and built a more deliberate bonfire out of logs.
“The students needed to heal. The university needed to heal,” said McInnis. But, he added, Bonfire needed to be re-born.
Safety is a key focal point for Student Bonfire builders. The wedding cake design is back, however, each log is placed directly on the ground, instead of on top of another log. There are redundant systems for wiring logs together. Alcohol is strictly prohibited, during construction and even on the night the stack is lit.
Losing fellow Aggies, losing official University standing, losing the Texas game has not extinguished the tradition of Bonfire.
“As long as people are willing to build it, we’re gonna keep doing it,” said Bailey.
Members of Student Bonfire cut more than two thousand logs this year, weighing 700 tons. The Bonfire stack will be about 40 feet and it will be soaked with jet fuel, for “burn” night on Friday, Nov. 23, the night before the game against Missouri at Kyle Field.
“Bonfire is the undying flame of love that every loyal student carries in his heart for his school,” said McInnis.
The present Bonfire site is about 15 miles northwest of Bryan off Highway 6. Visitors to the site should exit OSR and turn left, taking the first right after the railroad tracks. Carpooling is strongly encouraged on “burn” night. Organizers charge per car. They said refreshments will be available for purchase at the Bonfire site.
Legendary football coach Jackie Sherrill is scheduled to be the Bonfire speaker. More information is at: studentbonfire.com