One of the oldest and most respected traditions within the Student Bonfire organization are their safety helmets, better known as “pots.”
Pots are one of the many traditions practiced by the organization. Each rank within Student Bonfire is distinguished by color — reds are the highest in command, yellows are the mediators between the redpots and the crews, browns are those permitted to use chainsaws and other heavy duty machinery and greens are students who handle administrative work.
Each crew also has its own traditions it practices with its pots. Savannah Spafford, general engineering freshman, is a Neeley Angel, named after the residence hall to which she belongs. Spafford said although there are certain things the Neeley Angels and Knights are required to put on their pots, there is room for personal customization.
“On the top we do our class year, so when you look back upperclassmen can see,” Spafford said. “And you can see on the top it’s all messed up because they get inverted. They’ll put it on the ground and they’ll stomp it until it’s inside out. Then on the back you put your name and then your nickname. On the sides you get to put whatever you want.”
Jennifer Cummins, a Neeley Angel and visualization freshman, said wearing a pot of her own holds more meaning to her than she expected.
“My dad did a bonfire back in the 80s and he kept his pot with him and so he had it in our dress-up clothes as a little kid, and I used to use it,” Cummins said. “I didn’t realize it until I was signing up for bonfire and they were selling the pots and passing them out and I looked at it and said, ‘This is so familiar, I had one of these as a kid.’ So I sent a picture to my dad and I was like, ‘Were you in Bonfire? Because I have a pot now.’”
Cummins said the pot-wearing tradition is a cool thing to pass down.
“We have father-daughter, father-son cut and my dad came up and got to wear his old pot and cut with a crew again,” Cummins said.
Walton Crew’s pots have been passed down from crew to crew for decades. Kaleb Ryle, former Walton Crew chief, said Walton Crew has five pots designated to it.
“The yellow pot is the oldest pot and that’s the original pot from ’80,” Ryle said. “So someone has had it since 1980. And then there are three other pots that are the originals and someone has had those since 1988. And then the last one was taken away from us for the fall in ’99.”
Ryle owned one of these pots during his crew chief season last year. Ryle said the names of every crew chief who owned the pot before him are written on the side of the pot.
The Walton Crew’s pots are easy to pick out amongst the rest of the pots, Ryle said.
“Our pots are by far the oldest-looking types,” Ryle said. “You can tell that they’re very antique. A lot of them have cracks through them, the paint is all chipped off.”
The Walton Crew utilizes the pots it wears in more ways than one.
“We drink out of our pots, any function that we need to do at bonfire is accomplished through our pots,” Ryle said. “We drink water, when we cook food we put the food in our pots, we do everything with our pots.”
Ryle said pots are something by which every bonfire member can remember the tradition.
“It’s really, really cool when you can look on something tangible and see your history, see the people who have gone what you’ve gone through or something like what you’ve gone through,” Ryle said. “It’s just really cool to know that you’re a part of something that’s so old and that’s been there for so long.”