Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Oklahoma State University's great snowball riot of 1968: A tale of my misspent youth

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all.

Paul Simon

I graduated from Oklahoma State University almost 50 years ago, and I can say with no exaggeration that I didn't learn a goddamn thing.

But I had one thrilling experience at OSU, which I am going to tell you about. During my sophomore year, I had a friend named Paul who was a radio-television major and worked as a DJ in the evenings at the campus radio station.

One snowy night during the winter of 1968, Paul made an on-air announcement that the Sigma Nu fraternity house had challenged Scott Hall, a men's dorm, to a snowball fight. This simple statement--totally false--galvanized the OSU campus.

Like most male OSU undergraduates, I was a GDI--a goddamn independent; I hated the fraternity boys, with their starched oxford-cloth shirts, their pretty girlfriends, and the nice cars their parents gave them. A chance to throw snowballs at these arrogant, rich boys? Who could say no?

Shortly after Paul made his bogus announcement, phone calls came flooding into the radio station. Someone from Hull Hall said the dorm was pledging 50 men to the snowball fight.  The Sigma Chi fraternity reported that its entire membership was headed to the Sigma Nu house to join the battle.

I recall looking out the window of my dorm room and seeing my friends streaming out the door, scrambling into their winter coats as they ran toward fraternity row. Obviously, I had to be there.

Within a few minutes, I had joined a mob of GDIs in the university's formal gardens. It was like the battle scene in Dr. Zivago, when the Red Guards stormed over the ice to fight the White Russians. Hundreds of young men, wild with excitement, were charging toward the Sigma Nu house.

And then we threw some snowballs. In about 15 minutes we had broken out most of the windows on the front side of the Sigma Nu house. The Sigma Nus tried to defend their turf, aided by their allies from other fraternities. But we had them outnumbered. They was a riot goin' on!

Meanwhile, Paul, still broadcasting from the radio station, decided to report the fracas over the state newswire service. That report alerted the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, and the state troopers called for police backup from the surrounding towns of northcentral Oklahoma.  

After all, why should college kids have all the fun?

Oklahoma's law enforcement community had always suspected that OSU was a nest of commie sympathizers and Russian stooges, and this riot proved that their suspicions were right.  Patrol cars rolled in from all directions, and every officer was equipped with a sawed-off shotgun and plenty of double-ought buckshot. 

Who knew what glittering opportunities awaited the cops when they got to the OSU campus? If they were lucky, maybe they'd get a chance to kill a few anarchists.

And so--about an hour after the snowball fight began, the state troopers had formed a skirmish line in front of the Sigma Nu house. Some pompous Highway Patrol guy with a buzz haircut and a bullhorn told the independents they would be arrested if they didn't disperse immediately.

For a few minutes, we paid no attention to this warning, and I myself threw a snowball at the guy with the bullhorn. But the GDIs were no fools. We knew the Oklahoma Highway Patrol was not to be messed with. And so we melted away through OSU's beloved formal gardens--which we had dishonored by our lawlessness--and slunk back to our cell-like dorm rooms.

That evening in February 1968 was my most memorable experience from my OSU years. I still recall the satisfying sound of breaking glass after I lobbed an iceball at the Sigma Nu house--my feeble contribution to class warfare.

I am older today of course. But I only live about half a mile from LSU's Sigma Nu house. If conditions were just right and snow fell on Baton Rouge, and if I were to receive a call to storm fraternity row, well I might just join the fray.



Oklahoma State University's formal gardens--sullied by lawlessness





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