CSU tradition lives on

Sep 252005
Authors: Lindsay Reiter

One of the most visible traditions at CSU and a constant reminder of the university's legacy is the letter "A," proudly emblazoned on Fort Collins' western hillside.

Every year since 1983, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, with the help of the Athletic Department and the Alumni Association, keeps the tradition alive by applying a new coat of paint to the "A."

"The week before the first game of every season or before the homecoming game we continue the tradition and re-paint the 'A,'" said Jordan Maltz, a senior economics major and president of SAE.

The freshmen members of the football team contributed to the effort by helping bring supplies, such as paint, sprayers and generators, up to the site Wednesday night.

The men of SAE camped out at the base of the "A" Wednesday night and began the arduous process of applying a fresh coat of paint to the giant "A" early Thursday morning.

"The guys in the house started painting around nine in the morning and didn't finish until five or six," said Joslyn McGriff, a graduate student majoring in student affairs in higher education and the SAE live-in advisor. "This is a time for the new members to bond with current members. They learn about the chapter, each other and CSU history."

In order to ensure the "A" is visible from a distance, everything on the ground is painted.

"We make sure we stay inside the boundaries, but we paint everything – bushes, plants, rocks," Maltz said.

The paint is not lead based and is watered down, Maltz said, so it is less harmful and covers more area.

The tradition has evolved over the past 85 years and is now carried out in a very different way than in the past. When painting the "A" first began in the 1920's, it was a major event involving the entire student body.

"The whole school used to go to what we now know as Hughes Stadium to mix the paint," said Col. Bill Woods, the chapter advisor for SAE and a volunteer with the Athletic Department. "They bucket brigaded the paint to the top of the 'A' in a long line."

The tradition continued to evolve into the 1950's when Woods was a freshman at CSU.

"All the freshmen went up to paint the 'A' in the same way they did it back in the '20s. We all wore our green CSU beanies and bucket brigaded the paint up to the 'A,'" Woods said. "Once it was up there we used brooms and mops to paint the entire letter."

The tradition was not consistently carried out over the next 30 years. Various groups would volunteer, but occasionally a year would pass during which the duty was neglected.

Woods returned to CSU in 1983, after serving in the military, as the chapter advisor for SAE. He succeeded in reviving the tradition by involving both SAE and the Alumni Association. The two groups worked together to ensure the "A" was painted every year.

In 1985, they teamed up with the Athletic Department, which is when freshmen members of the football team started to help carry supplies to the site.

The "A," which stands for "Aggies," is one of the largest designs on a mountainside in the United States. It measures 350 feet tall and 250 feet wide at the base.

"This is one tradition that the community, especially the older people, would like to see continued. It symbolizes what CSU used to be-an agricultural college, and what it is all about – great people and a great school," Woods said.

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