Their turn: Ceremonial Baylor Line gives hundreds of alumnae unforgettable experience
Originally published on DieHards.
Thousands of Baylor alumnae were treated to a shock when they opened their emails on Oct. 1.
“Baylor University invites you to join other women who were a part of the student body between 1970 and 1994 to participate in a ceremonial running of the Baylor Line,” the email read.
These women – who ranged in age from early 40s to late 60s – were never given the opportunity to run the Baylor Line as students. Women weren’t allowed to participate until 1994.
“We were just aware that sometimes girls didn’t get to do the things that boys got to do,” said Heather Nay, who entered in the Class of 1996. “That was just life.”
Twenty-three years later, the university decided to make things right for their forgotten alumnae. It all culminated on Saturday, when hundreds of women ran the Baylor Line for the first time before the Bears’ game against Texas.
Running the Line – when first-year students run across the field in yellow Line jerseys before the game – is a tradition that has become synonymous with Baylor itself. The tradition dates to 1970, when the all-male Baylor Line organization was founded. Women were not included.
There was a companion organization for women created in 1971 called the Baylor Sidelines. However, female students were not allowed to be part of the Baylor Line or participate in the pregame field activities. That divide existed until 1994, when the organizations combined.
A few months ago, several female Baylor graduates reached out to new university president Dr. Linda Livingstone. She taught at Baylor from 1991 to 2002, and was around when the Line began welcoming women. Many petitioned the university for years to let the alumnae who were left out run the Line.
Livingstone was immediately receptive. She passed along the idea to Baylor’s department of student life.
“We’d been looking for an opportunity to do this for years,” said Matt Burchett, director of student activities. “With [Dr. Livingstone’s] blessing, we were able to start looking for pathways to make it happen.”
Student life had barely a week to put together a plan. By the end of September, everything was approved. All that was left was to spread the word.
Across the country, Baylor alums reacted with joy.
“I happened to be with my older sister, who graduated in 1993,” Nay said. “We were raised as Bears because my dad went there. We literally screamed so loud in an Austin hotel that we thought we were going to get called by the management.”
She was not the only one. Jami Ivey, a 1992 graduate, didn’t believe the email could be accurate. It seemed too good to be true.
“I was shocked – I thought there was no way that was real,” Ivey said. “So I went back and read it again just to double check. I couldn’t believe they were actually going to do that.”
Within a minute, Ivey had ordered a Baylor Line jersey and registered to run the line. She was one of several women who would run immediately before their children ran the Line. Ivey’s son, True Head, is a freshman at Baylor.
Over the next few weeks, 850 women joined her. Several hundred more women who couldn’t make the game ordered Line jerseys. The outpouring of support was so strong that Baylor student life had to rush just to meet demand.
“We had prepared for up to 700 logistically,” Burchett said. “We had no idea what it would look like.”
To fulfill demand, Baylor bought out North America’s supply of yellow football jerseys. More still had to be made and shipped from overseas just to meet the quota. The university is still working through the logistics. However, administrators could not be more thrilled with the response.
“We hoped it would be this number,” Burchett said. “We’d love to have this many women come back for the experience. This was meant to be a come-one-come-all and we would manage any size. If it was 50, we’d have 50. If it’s a thousand, then it’s a thousand.”
Finding a sisterhood
There were 850 women on the field from 25 different graduating classes on Saturday. But even though the vast majority of these women did not know each other, it didn’t take long for them to feel connected.
Crystal Sanders, a 1993 alumna, hurried to the tent to pick up her Line jersey on gameday. Another woman was already there putting on her jersey.
“I didn’t know her from Adam,” Sanders said. “I just got my jersey and we stood there and hugged each other.”
Things only escalated when the women got to the holding area about an hour before the game. Members of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce directed traffic. The ceremonial Line went down to the entrance tunnel, while the current first-year students waited behind. Soon, the women were led onto the field where they stood in the end zone.
In that time, generations of Baylor women shared in a unique experience.
“It was so energetic, I don’t know how to explain it,” Nay said. “Everyone was just so excited that this was finally happening. They had been waiting so long. We just chatted and met people and had a great time.”
Chamber members gathered the women in the end zone and gave them details. The women would be allowed to run partially down the field and then would stop in a certain area and clear way for the students. When the running started, all the rules were out the window.
“Telling a bunch of moms what they’re going to do never works that well,” Ivey said. “We just went where we wanted to go. They were like, ‘Hold on! You can’t go this far!’ And we just said, ‘See ya!’ We were going to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Sanders doesn’t even remember running. The entire experience just blurred together. All she remembers is feeling so happy that she got to share this experience with all these women. The entire group was overcome with emotion.
“It was a bucket-list item I didn’t know I had,” Nay said.
Baylor has changed significantly since 1994. The university finally allowed dancing on campus in 1996. The school has far more female representation in leadership, including the last two student body presidents. The school now has its first female president.
Even though the football team has not seen success on the field this season, Baylor wanted to give these women an opportunity to partake in a quintessential university tradition.
“This is a great opportunity for us to honor our female alumnae and have a really once-in-a-lifetime experience around our football program,” Burchett said. “We could have never anticipated that they would be 0-7, but I’m glad we’re providing experiences for our students, alumni that continue to represent the place of hospitality and care that Baylor is.”
Even though this day came many years after they graduated, the women we talked to couldn’t have been more thankful for the opportunity.
“Traditions on campus are important,” Sanders said. “When there’s something a group is excluded from, people don’t think it matters. But when you’re able to take part in something that’s so Baylor, you actually feel like you’re being closer to the university.”
Ultimately, between students and alumnae, close to 3,000 people were on the field. Granted, the team struggled to capitalize on the momentum, losing 38-7 to Texas. But it didn’t matter. Almost all the women left the stadium with smiles on their faces — even after the loss.
“At the end of the day, they didn’t forget about us,” Ivey said. “They didn’t forget about us.”