Jim Amidon — The HDNet television production truck rolled out of Crawfordsville late Saturday evening, effectively ending this year’s edition of the 113-year annual tradition known as the Monon Bell Classic.
Wabash won the game over archrival DePauw 23-20 on a cold, overcast day and with terrible field conditions. Even with such awful weather, the rivalry game set another new attendance record when more than 11,600 hearty souls layered up in sweatshirts and coats to cheer on their teams.
About an hour after the game, I started to put the contest and the many components of “Bell Week” into a larger context. Here are some of the memories that stand out:
1) Placing the Co-Motion fund-raiser to benefit the Montgomery County Family Crisis Shelter and the Julian Center in the hands of the Sphinx Club produced incredible results. Wabash students Tony Caldwell and Jason Siegel took leadership of the program, worked closely with Wabash alumni Bill Padgett and Paul Jefferson, and built a partnership with their counterparts at DePauw.
For years, Wabash and DePauw Co-Motion organizers have struggled to get momentum. Tony, Jason, and the Sphinx Club are all about momentum. While final dollar totals are not quite firm, Wabash will have raised over $4,500 and DePauw just over $6,500 for a total donation for domestic violence shelters of more than $11,000.
Co-Motion stands out because even though the Sphinx Club pledges and actives really wanted to cheer, scream, and watch the football game intently, many continued to walk through crowds with collection buckets, trying to make a difference in the lives of people they don’t even know.
2) Thursday night, alumni from Wabash and DePauw gathered in Indianapolis for the annual Monon Bell Stag. Yes, some people have a problem with the fact the event is for men only, and I can see that argument.
At the same time, each year when I attend the event, I am continually amazed at the level of camaraderie and respect alumni from both schools have for one another. The evening features lots of good-natured barbs and more than a few office bets on the outcome of the game. In the end, the alumni of the two schools adore the tradition of the rivalry and they come together for food and fellowship.
The other neat thing about the Stag is the Spirit of the Monon Bell Award. Each year, the men of Wabash single out an alumnus from DePauw to honor, and vice versa. This year, Wabash chose DePauw alumnus Max Hittle, an Indianapolis attorney who has served his alma mater as president of the alumni board and member of the board of trustees. The DePauw men honored Dr. Jim Cumming (pictured above), a Wabash alumnus who is one of Indiana’s finest pediatricians. He, too, serves Wabash on its board of trustees.
3) Tailgating has become an art form in Crawfordsville, if only for one weekend every two years. What I saw when I arrived to meet HDNet Friday afternoon was just the beginning: RVs being parked, positions staked out, campfires started. By 7 a.m. Saturday morning — even in the misty rain and increasingly cold temps — the tailgate lots were completely full.
I walked through the tailgating area several times, meeting up with old friends and Wabash alumni I hadn’t seen in 10 or more years. At every party at which I stopped, I was warmly greeted with handshakes and hugs; we picked up on conversations that ended two, five, and 10 years ago.
4) I was also thinking about Doctor and Mrs. Richard Walker and their sons, Matt and John. There’s a whole new era beginning in the “battle for the bell.” Crawfordsville native Matt Walker is likely to be the coach at DePauw for a very long time, which means increased community interest in the outcome of the annual Monon Bell game; he brings another compelling story line to a rivalry filled with stories.
I’m real sure the Walkers would like to have been celebrating a victory Saturday night. But I’m also real sure Mom and Dad Walker were very, very proud of their sons Matt and John.
5) Finally, as I was drifting off from exhaustion, I felt a smile creep over my face. I started thinking about how lucky I am — how lucky WE are — to have this incredible sports rivalry that can at once bring out the best in us and bring us all together.
I think about the thousands of colleges and universities around the country, and none of them — not Ohio State and Michigan or Harvard and Yale — have anything close to the Monon Bell Classic.