Pigtails and Peruna

My relationship with Southern Methodist University did not begin my first day of classes as a freshman student. It began when I was a toddler, prancing around the boulevard in an SMU cheerleading uniform, hair in pigtails and hands holding pom-poms the size of my head. I’ve gone to every home football game for as long as I can remember.

My grandfather, Mark Ussery, graduated from SMU in 1964. For years, his old friends from the football and baseball teams have had a tent set up on the boulevard, hosting my grandparents and their friends, their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. We’d eat hot dogs and brownies and drink white wine. Their spot on the boulevard is right by the Meadows Museum; it always has been, and I think it always will be. As years go by, some of my grandpa’s friends have slowly started backing out of the boulevarding extravaganza; but my grandpa remains dedicated to the tradition of wearing red and blue from head to toe, uniting generations of SMU Mustangs at each game.

Next semester, however, the student population is moving off the boulevard. To increase student attendance at the football games, Greek life and student organizations are moving from Dallas Hall lawn to the Mustang Mall, the pathway from Moody Colosseum to Ford Stadium. Students have been quite outspoken since being told about the move in a letter only a couple weeks ago. Students and alumni will no longer share Bishop Blvd. on game day. SMU’s version of tailgating, what is known as “boulevarding” by all of Dallas, might become just that — tailgating. With this change, tradition dies.

Even with next semester’s move, I can promise that my grandfather and his friends will still make an appearance at every game. I have wondered, though, will my grandpa’s boulevard experience change once Greek life moves away? One of my favorite memories of being a toddler on SMU campus was seeing all the older and wiser students strutting around promoting their Greek organizations. I remember wanting to be just like them.

The boulevard experience has been around since SMU President R. Gerald Turner came to town. In 2000, Ford Stadium hosted the first Mustang football game against the University of Kansas. The first tailgate featured the Mustang band and spirit teams, celebrating the stadium’s grand opening. Turner brought the idea for the boulevard from the University of Mississippi, where he served as chancellor until 1995. Ole Miss fans tailgate before football games on “The Grove,” an open area in the middle of campus, resembling SMU’s Boulevard. Turner’s goal for the Boulevard experience was achieved with the construction of Ford Stadium and his desire to unite the community of SMU students and alumni.

This experience has become a tradition — something incoming freshmen at SMU can’t wait to join in on. That’s why my fellow students are not thrilled with the boulevard move. I know my grandpa, a very active alumnus, is concerned about what will happen to his party, too.

“Being on the boulevard has become tradition. Once tradition has been established, why change it? When I found out that they were changing the location for getting together before the game, I was taken back and disappointed,” Ussery said. “For us, it’s not just boulevarding — it’s getting together with friends of old and reminiscing about great times of the past and watching SMU’s future in front of us.”

“My concern is,” said Ussery, “will the excitement of game day be diminished?”