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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Opinion: A blatant disregard of tradition

Bringing Bonfire back to campus defeats the purpose of the tradition
Photo by Photo by Bridget Bristow

Torch runner tosses fallen torch at the Student Bonfire on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023.

John Bellinger and the rest of the Board of Regents, this one’s for you.

“Restoring” Bonfire to campus just might be the worst idea you’ve had yet.

Some context is in order. In advance of the upcoming football game with the University of Texas, President Welsh formed a “rivalry committee” of 14 people headed by Regent John Bellinger and Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Ramirez. It includes a whole cast of who’s who in A&M politics: Student Body President Andrew Applewhite, Corps of Cadets Commander Caitlyn Walsh, Head Yell Leader Trevor Yelton and various other relevant personages.

On Jan. 11, Bellinger sent letters to the families of the 12 lost in the collapse asking permission to bring the tradition back to campus. He expressed his condolences for their loss before expounding on the “minimal oversight” and lack of safety measures used by the current off-campus Bonfire. 

Following the collapse in 1999, A&M toyed with the idea of reinstating Bonfire with renewed safety measures and oversight, as Bellinger is now suggesting. The plan fell apart in 2002 when it was discovered that liability insurance for the program would exceed $2 million per year and the university officially canceled the tradition.

Anyone who’s been in Bonfire knows the Aggie Spirit is stronger than that. A group of Aggies got together later that year and started the unsanctioned off-campus Bonfire, which has been going strong every year since. It’s now a registered nonprofit organization under the name Bonfire, LLC. This is the group — the students — that have kept the tradition alive since the university gave up on it.

Despite this, and despite the fact that the collapse occurred not when the rogue off-campus group with “minimal oversight” was building it but when the university itself was in charge, Bellinger evidently decided that now was the time to establish what I like to call his New Army Bonfire.

Bellinger’s guise of condolence and professionalism fell away during in-person meetings with the families, an anonymous committee member told the Texas Tribune.

“‘He strongly implied, if not said, that the families who didn’t agree with bringing back Bonfire … they didn’t understand the spirit of the tradition and what it means to Aggies,’” the committee member said, according to the Tribune. “‘It felt like it was just a box to check in saying that, ‘Hey, we tried,’ before creating this tradition that he [Bellinger] wants to bring back.’”

I’ve come to expect some slimy behaviors from our Board of Regents, but even for me, this is a new one. To look a parent in the eyes and suggest that opposing a program that defeats the entire purpose of a tradition — the tradition their child died for — is a new low.

But it doesn’t end there.

“The committee is in the preliminary stages of considering ways to have official oversight of the bonfire,” Bellinger wrote in his letter. 

The off-campus “bonfire,” to adopt the derogatory lowercase used by Bellinger, would be consumed by the university’s heavy-handed supervision. Worse, according to a Texas Tribune source, student involvement in this new bonfire would be minimal as they’re proposing hiring a construction company to build it.

Currently, Bonfire is entirely student-built. Students use axes to chop down and trim the trees; students hoist massive logs onto their shoulders to transport them from the woods to the trailer; students use pulley systems and brute strength to lift these logs and hold them in place while other students use baling wire to secure them to the stack.

Can you guess which keyword would be missing from those sentences if the university hires a construction company to put this thing together?

Here’s a hot take the Regents have apparently never heard before: it’s not about the pile of logs, and it never was. Why do I feel like I’m trying to explain the concept of Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge here?

Burn is meant to be a fantastic culmination of an entire semester of hard work and dedication. Students dedicate entire weekends and hours upon hours of their weekdays to putting Bonfire together. 

Yes, it’s about beating the hell outta t.u. But it’s also about calluses and ant bites and shooting the breeze with your buddies while waiting for your turn to swing on the tree.

What would be the point of just showing up to a premade stack of logs slapped together by power tools and cranes? That’s not Aggie Spirit. That’s not Bonfire.

I’ll tell you exactly what it is. This is the Regents’ idea of a moneymaker. They want to take our tradition — our Bonfire — and turn it into something profitable for the university. With the UT game coming up, they’ve realized the mistake they made back in 2002: the revenue coming in from the game will vastly outweigh any construction or revenue costs associated with their New Army Bonfire.

Not only is this a blatant slap in the face to the memory of the 12 we lost — not to mention their families, who are likely being bullied into accepting — it’s completely disregarding the point of the tradition.

So, Mr. Bellinger, I hope you’re listening. I address this to you because I hope to God the current students serving on the rivalry committee at least possess the presence of mind and understanding of their fellow Aggies to know that this goes against the spirit of Bonfire itself.

I hope you come to your senses and realize that Bonfire is not just another tradition you can extort to drum up funds in advance of the UT game. It may be too much to ask, but I hope you can recognize that the point of Bonfire is bringing together students of all makes, majors and walks of life to create something beautiful, something that keeps the Spirit of Aggieland alive and honors the lives of the 12 we lost.

Maybe if you dirtied your dress shoes by standing outside at 2:42 am on Nov. 18 every year with the students you’re purporting to represent, you would understand.

Charis Adkins is an English junior and opinion columnist for The Battalion.

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Charis Adkins
Charis Adkins, Opinion Columnist
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  • D

    Daniel Bishop '04Apr 23, 2024 at 8:21 pm

    As a person who helped build Student Bonfire’s first Stack back in 2003, I would like to thank your generation for keeping the tradition alive for the last 20+ years.

    And I totally agree with you: It’s better to have Bonfire off-campus than to have a construction company build it. No conflagration without student participation!

  • B

    Brian SandersApr 23, 2024 at 6:03 pm

    Charis Adkins, I could not have said it better myself. I built Bonfire back in the day for 5 years and loved every minute of it. You are spot on that Bellinger and the Board just don’t seem to get it. The whole point of Bonfire is the comradery and effort of a group of Aggies working together for a common goal; NOT to have somebody else build it for us, and certainly NOT so the whole thing will fall for some TV show. Gig ’em from the Class of ’91!

  • M

    Michael MartinezApr 22, 2024 at 10:12 am

    If he thinks he can bully the families of the 12 into submission, he is absolutely wrong. This tradition runs deep in all of us and we will not stand idly by while he runs it into the ground. The person who doesn’t understand what it means to be an Aggie is Bellinger. Bonfire builds Aggies. We burn it so we can build it.

  • R

    Rachna EdalurApr 20, 2024 at 4:36 pm

    Charis Adkins I am your biggest fan

  • W

    Walton Loads!Apr 19, 2024 at 9:01 pm

    This hits the nail on the head, and perfectly echoes what the olds/deads have been saying – the university has turned their eyes into dollar signs and their jaws have hit the floor at the idea of charging a $50 ticket to something that no longer belongs to them.

    • D

      DeadCivApr 24, 2024 at 1:02 pm

      Mr. Bellinger didn’t talk to the Redpots, but Mr. Torn did. Back in January, I believe.

    • R

      renee dormoisApr 29, 2024 at 9:57 am

      First off, I respect your comment. I do agree that money has overtaken the academic world in colleges and universities.
      However, your reference to “old/deads” is a bit insulting – and I am not easily moved by words. This “classification of Aggies” are the ones who built the university literally and financially; donate millions upon millions to the university; help underserved students achieve their dreams of overcoming poverty; support student organizations that serve the BCS community. Just sayin’ – better said “Former Students”. That’s all I mean. I am a proud Former Student. Not old, and certainly not dead. Gig ’em

  • N

    NicoliaApr 19, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    I love how not once in this whole ordeal, Bellinger thought to actually speak to the members of Student Bonfire that currently build it. This is a slap in the face to the students, the Tradition, and most importantly, The 12. John (Bellinger), you should be ashamed of yourself for this senseless cash grab that stands on the graves of 12 students.

    • M

      Mike Mecke '61Apr 23, 2024 at 12:32 pm

      A terrible, bad idea from some regents. Too dangerous and not safe for students………it was a bad idea in 1900’s and a worse idea now. Injuries occur, even minor ones which affect student’s health and grades along with the study time missed. I doubt if a majority of the present student body knows about the old bonfire or cares if it is held. Means little to nothing to most except maybe to a few brainwashed by parents or old Ags. The crooked, small oak forest “logs” found around BCS are not appropriate for stacking either. The University should have nothing to do with this goofy, dangerous idea and consider some board changes to rational and education-minded regents.

  • V

    Viktoria HeathApr 19, 2024 at 2:26 pm

    Charis Adkins needs a raise. She speaks for the people and understand what they want. Her writing inspires people and keeps them grounded because she says what is true. I hope this article goes where it needs to go because she deserves to get some credit for the work she puts in and Bonfire deserves to have a voice in this battle. Great job!!