In 1988 “The World’s Greatest College Weekend” Got Even Better

Little 500, May 12, 1951. IU Archives image no. P0057566

The Little 500 began in 1951 and students throughout campus were involved from the beginning. Women, however, were excluded from full participation for nearly 40 years. While they could participate in the Mini 500 trike race, women wanted an equal spotlight during “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.” In early 1980s, then-Dean of Women’s Affairs, Phyllis Klotman, proposed a separate women’s race after hearing talk of female students being unhappy because they felt like they were not a true part of Little 500. After Dean Klotman’s proposal, the planning took six years, but with a lot of persistence, the first race finally happened in 1988.

“We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

The rules for team building were the same as the men’s race: Only one Greek team per house, and the residence halls can have multiple teams, but they must be from different floors. The women’s race was half the length of the men’s: 100 laps (25 miles) as compared to the men’s 200 laps. And just to keep things fair, men were introduced to the Mini 500, which had been intended strictly for women.

For that first year, 37 teams were interested, but rules stated 33 teams were the maximum number allowed to race. It all worked out, as on race day, 30 women’s teams ended up competing. More than 11,000 spectators turned out to see the first-ever women’s race, a much larger turnout than projected. The top five finishing teams that year were:

  1. Willkie Sprint
  2. Kappa Alpha Theta
  3. Delta Delta Delta
  4. Alpha Epsilon Phi
  5. Notorious

The winning women’s team in 1988, Willkie Sprint, finished with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 52 seconds, which averages out to a speed of 21.57 mph.

The Women’s council president for the 1988 Women’s 500, Sandi Miller, had some encouraging words for the women involved in the race, “We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

 

Women’s Little 500 is still as popular as ever and while there has been an annual race since 1988, Willkie Sprint’s time remains the fourth highest recorded. Today at 4:30 history will record the 30th Women’s Little 500.

Contact the IU Archives to learn more about the history of the Little 500, and view photographs of past women’s races here in the Archives Photograph Collection. We have also partnered with our colleagues in the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive to begin digitization of Little 500 films in our holdings! Visit Media Collections Online to see what is currently available and stay tuned for more!

Little 500: Entertainers of the Past

There’s a little event going on in town this week.

Victorious Little 500 riders, 1964

Yep, it’s time for Little 500 at Indiana University, for many years called the World’s Greatest College Weekend.

The race was the brainchild of Howard “Howdy” Wilcox. Wilcox, Director of the IU Foundation (IUF), established the IU Student Foundation Committee in 1950 in order to raise awareness of the Foundation and its purpose. He saw the race as an opportunity to publicize the IU Student Foundation and raise scholarship money for students working their way through school. The bike race, modeled after the Indianapolis 500, was first run in 1951. The first years featured only the race but before long a Variety Show was added and in subsequent years additional entertainment and events were developed, including the Golf Jamboree (1958), the Cream and Crimson intra-squad football game (1963), and the Style Show (1969).

This year there has been a tremendous amount of excitement over the headliner Lil Wayne and I thought there might be some interest in learning a bit about the past acts that have come for Little 500. In 1953, IUF Director Bill Armstrong decided to add a little celebrity luster and brought in the first Little 500 Sweetheart, actress and singer Lu Ann Simms. Simms was given every photo op possible throughout the weekend.

Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.
Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.

With the crowds the race began to draw, Armstrong harbored concerns about what folks could do in town post-race, so two years later he added a Variety Show. The headliner that year was Horace Heidt and his 50-person “Swift Show Wagon.” The group performed at the Auditorium and a new tradition was born. Feeling there could still be more, in 1960 Armstrong launched the Friday night concert, the Little 500 Extravaganza. The first performers were The Four Lads, who entertained crowds from the Woodlawn tennis courts.

In his book, The Little 500: The Story of the World’s Greatest College Weekend, author John Schwarb relays the story of Armstrong’s greatest celebrity coup, Bob Hope. Schwarb writes, “Making a personal crusade out of landing the big act of the day, he traveled to Hope’s North Hollywood, California, home in early 1963 to personally ask for the star’s attendance. Initially Hope rebuffed Armstrong’s request, saying that IU couldn’t be anywhere near as great as advertised, and that the school up the road in West Lafayette was better.” [this archivist’s response: *gasp*] Armstrong continued to pursue Hope and he agreed to come in 1964. That year, Little 500 set an attendance record of 23,790 and Hope delivered with four shows to accommodate the deluge of ticket sales. But when Armstrong in turn delivered his $30,000 check, Hope tore it up. Turned out he had such a great time that he asked to return the next year and did so again in 1967, 1971, and 1975, donating his fees to a scholarship fund in his name. (Interested in applying? Check out http://iufoundation.iu.edu/students/scholarships.html.)

The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.
The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.

So, there have been a lot of celebrities connected to Little 500. Some other names of the past:

  • 1955: Horace Heidt’s Swift Show Wagon
  • 1958: headliners Don Cherry & Tina Robin; Popoff Teddy Family, and Al Cobine
  • 1965: The Kingsmen
  • 1969: Tony Bennett, George Kirby, and the Sandpipers
  • 1970: Chicago
  • 1978: Lou Rawls
  • 1983: Barbara Mandrell & the Do-Rites
  • 1988: Innuendo, the Cones, & Voyage
  • 1992: Larry Crane, Henry Lee Summer, and John Mellencamp
  • 1993: The BoDeans (openers were Material Issue & The Why Store)
  • 2001: Nelly
  • 2005: The Roots
IU alums, what were some of your favorite Little 500 shows?