Stack shifts begin, inspire camaraderie
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 02:11
More than a century ago, a few Aggies gathered barn wood and garbage to burn what would become Aggie Bonfire. Though no longer a school-sanctioned tradition, hundreds of students continue to join every year in the camaraderie and construction of the off-campus student bonfire.
After 12 students were killed in the bonfire collapse in 1999, the University refused to recognize the tradition and students were forced to take it off campus.
Thirteen years later, in the wake of a conference transition and renewal of old rivalries, student bonfire continues its purpose of unity and camaraderie among those who participate.
“I first started bonfire when I lived in the dorms on campus,” said Dan Jatem, senior industrial engineering major. “As the season went on I had a lot of fun, created strong bonds with my crew and continue to enjoy it.”
The bonfire stack is traditionally topped with a burnt-orange, “t.u. frat house,” and set on fire the night before the A&M-UT Thanksgiving football game to symbolize the Aggies’ “burning desire to beat the hell outta t.u.” Even though the Longhorns are no longer on the A&M football schedule, Eric Menn, senior redpot — a bonfire leadership position — and agricultural leadership and development major, said bonfire almost remains the same.
“Students can expect to see the same stack, the same fire and the same experience out at bonfire this year and the years to come,” Menn said. “With the exception of a possible change in the color scheme on top, the experience and the spirit of this tradition are constant and things that all Aggies can count on.”
From its humble beginnings as a trash pile in 1907, bonfire has evolved into a five-tier, wedding cake design. The top, or fifth tier, stands at 32 feet high — the same height since the beginning of student bonfire in 2003. Apart from the desire to beat the University of Texas, Menn said camaraderie is at the heart of student bonfire, no matter who plays in the following football game.
“The essence of [bonfire] is not about football or who the Aggies are playing on Thanksgiving,” Menn said. “Student bonfire Inc. is very excited about the move to the SEC and has embraced it from the get-go. We have never viewed it as a negative for us. Bonfire is about the Aggie community, building Aggies and bringing them together by working toward a common goal. It is about a common, burning desire for the love of Texas A&M.”
Building bonfire is a process. In October, students began cut and spent Sunday mornings gathering trees to build the bonfire on a donated plot of land. With bonfire nearing its burn date, students will begin to assemble the structure.
The first full-crew stack shift begins Wednesday, with the centerpole foundation already set.
“During stack we actually construct the bonfire stack against the centerpole,” Jatem said. “We’ll start with six-hour shifts then as the date gets closer the upper leadership will decide on the push schedule.”
After months of work the project becomes a physical and emotional investment. Students who participate in cut most likely participate in stack, according to Dion McInnis, member of the bonfire board of directors.
“Stack is the assembly of all the work over the season,” McInnis said. “Cut is important because you can’t stack without logs, and stack is important because a pile of logs doesn’t look good. [Stack is] when everybody comes together and works together.”
Over the past two years burn night has been delayed due to drought conditions. Nothing has been determined yet, but McInnis said burn should come at the scheduled time this year.
Bonfire is set to burn Nov. 23 after the sun sets. Former A&M head football coach Jackie Sherrill has been announced as the burn night speaker.
“We are looking forward to Jackie Sherrill,” Dion said. “Coach Sherrill alone will be able to turn up the heat.”