LITTLE ROCK — On-campus protests. A complicit media in the take-down of a stodgy school president. A touch of the risque. Loud music. Lovable animals. A mysterious student-friendly professor. Athletic competition with a treasured trophy to the winner.
Blended, the elements are the 80-year-old roots for the Boomtown Classic this month in El Dorado.
The tentacles of the tale extend from Monticello where Frank Horsfall was involved for 25 years in the growth of what is now the University of Arkansas at Monticello. As president of what was then the Fourth District Agricultural and Mechanical College, he promoted restrictions on the social interaction between students of the opposite sex, requiring males to stay on one side of an invisible line through campus and females to remain on the other side.
As part of his policy, dances were banned. A newspaper article said the school gained national attention because of Horsfall’s “objections to terpischorian talent on the part of his students …”
From there, some interepretation of events is required.
Protesting Horsfall’s hard-but-invisible-line policy, dissidents took to the media with not-so-subtle ads. The year was 1933 and, under the guise of promoting the annual football game between Horsfall’s Aggies and Magnolia A&M’s Muleriders in El Dorado, the students fought back. Dated Nov. 26, the headline on the full-page ad said “Come to El Dorado Thursday for a Great Day of Entertainment.”
Knowing that Horsfall could not shut down a day of football, the ad contained a plug for the Camden-El Dorado game in the afternoon and the Monticello “Boll Weevils” vs. the Magnolia “Muleriders” at 8 p.m.
In smaller type was an invitation to join demonstrations, also called dances. To confuse and dilute Horsfall’s minions, the get-togethers were scheduled simultaneously at two sites in the afternoon and at the same two sites in the evening. For those fearful of being identified, a fifth gathering was to be held in a darkened theater.
A “Matinee Dance” was scheduled at the Elks Club and an “afternoon Dance” at the Randolph Hotel, both at 2 p.m. That evening, one dance started at 9:30 and the other at 10 and both rubbed it in Horsfall’s face with a “Till?”
Adding insult to injury, the Rialto Theater was showing a Clark Gable-Joan Crawford movie entitled, not coincidentally, “Dancing Lady.”
From there, the protest spread. On the Monticello campus, a chain-smoking professor known only as Dickinson created the Geoanthropology club. Purportedly, he was interested in fossils — a subject so fascinating to the general student population that the club had the largest membership on campus. Perks included club dances, raising the possibility the students signed up to “dig it” rather than for the “digs.”
On Jan. 1, 1935, at the first formal dance on campus, the revered Dickinson was recognized with the replica of a dinosaur.
A beaten man, Horsfall resigned.
Before there were gyrations on the dance floor, there was a goat. And not just any goat.
On Thanksgiving 1929, the team from Monticello hauled a “kinky-haired female” nanny to Magnolia, dubbed her Charline Overstreet, and declared that if the Muleriders won, the animal would remain in Magnolia and be called “Frankie Horsfall.”
Indeed, the Muleriders prevailed and she fell in love with a billy in Magnolia. The next Thanksgiving, the Weevils won, taking back to Monticello the trophy and her five children. In 1933, in front of 3,500 — tickets were 35 cents for students, a half-dollar more for adults — Magnolia A&M tried desparately to reunite the family, but the game ended in a scoreless tie.
Along the line, historians lost track of the goat.
Against that backdrop, Henderson State vs. Arkansas Tech on Oct. 19 is pretty mundane stuff even though the Reddies’ offense has scored 37 touchdowns in four games and Kevin Rodgers recently set a Henderson record with 595 yards passing.
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is 3 p.m. I’m not sure about the social calendar.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.