The Championship Arch

by Dr. Eugene Baker | January 17, 2019

Designed to Celebrate Athletic Successes

Baylor University students have long been known for their generosity.  Customarily, whenever they get involved in an undertaking, whether requiring time, money or emotional support, success is almost always assured.    

Not only have their contributions of gifts and service met the needs of people, programs and projects within the community and around the world, but they have also significantly enhanced the grounds and facilities of the university.  Gardening, painting and general clean up-fix up activities have been among the myriad contributions students have made toward the improvement of the campus environment.  Clubs, fraternities and sororities, as well as individuals and independent groups, have continually made the institution the benefactor of their handiwork.  

Among the early major projects was one that thousands of students, alumni and Baylor fans passed under on their way to attend football, baseball and basketball games at Lee Carroll Field (located between Carroll Science Hall and Waco Creek, property now occupied by the Bill Daniel Student Center).  It was called the Championship Arch and for a decade and a half, the wrought iron structure celebrated the glory days when the Bears captured the conference crown in football (1922, 1924) and baseball (1923). 

The genesis for the archway began in January 1917 by the senior class.   Following a tradition set several years earlier whereby those planning to graduate at the end of the spring term would leave a reminder of the class’ presence, the 1917 seniors voted to erect an arch over the automobile entrance to the Carroll Field parking area.  The arch was to be emblazoned with the class logo (a star with “seventeen” in the middle) and the words “Carroll Field,” both of which were to be prominently displayed.  Funding and design difficulties delayed the development of the arch—temporarily at first, but gradually, as time passed, disinterest produced a permanent halt to the project.

The idea of the arch was revived five years later, at the December 6, 1922 meeting of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, a week after the university had captured the Southwestern Conference football title (eight victories and one loss with total points amassed 275 to 60).  Desiring to recognize and celebrate the unprecedented feat in some special way, the group considered erecting a large billboard or an arch at the entrance of the football field.  The arch won approval and the university administration immediately announced its support.  

This time, the design called for different wording than that which had been suggested by the Class of 1917.  Displayed on the 40-foot arch were to be the words: “Carroll Field,” “Home of the Baylor Bears” and “Southwestern Conference Champions.”  Since the football squad’s success had been the catalyst for the rebirth of the arch, “Football 1922” lettering was also to be affixed to the wrought-iron sign—and covered in gold leaf!  Plenty of room was left to acknowledge future championships, of which many were anticipated.

Even with all the enthusiasm and support from various facets of the Baylor “kingdom,” it would take more than a year before the arch became a reality.  Shortly after it was completed and dedicated in the late spring of 1923, a new addition was needed to recognize the Bears capture of the baseball conference title.

As new lettering was being added that November, a colossal mistake claimed almost as much attention as the recognition.  Rather than employing a professional to gold leaf the “Baseball 1923” addition, a student was given the assignment.  Thinking that a new coat of paint would brighten the entrance archway, he used green paint for the crossbars and gold for the words and numerals, thereby destroying the striking original gold leafing.  Nevertheless, the arch proudly marked the school’s first two athletic conference crowns.    

For the 1924 Homecoming contest against Texas A&M, the arch was one of the major talking points of the day.  The university had won its first conference game of the season two weeks earlier and the Baylor family believed another victory would put the Bears on the right path to claim another championship.  

Even though the game was to be played at the Cotton Palace, a parade originated at the arch after what was dubbed to be the “largest pep meeting ever held on Baylor campus.” The route of the march traversed several downtown streets and concluded at the Raleigh Hotel.  Following another full-blown pep rally there, the team was sent off to its gridiron battle. 

How much help this spirit boost provided the team is unknown, but it certainly didn’t hurt because the Bears defeated the Aggies 15 to 7 and went on to take the title again without suffering a conference loss.

This time, only three months elapsed before “1924” was added to the arch.  New gold leafing was also included and by February 1925, the championship symbol was resplendent in its display of the three conference titles and ready for more athletic accomplishments.  Unfortunately, even though subsequent Baylor teams did their best on the gridiron, diamond and hardwood, new conference crowns failed to be exhibited on the arch ever again.

When construction began on the new Union Building in the late 1930s, the arch was removed.  It remained stored in the university’s maintenance facilities for some 75 years, unseen and almost forgotten by the student body and the general public.  In 2015, a major donor provided significant funds to initiate a plan for its restoration.  As a result of several additional contributions, including a major gift by the Class of 2018, the 27-foot arch will once again be a reminder of Baylor’s early conference championships when it is placed its new home in the Bill Daniel Student Center this fall, just a stone’s throw from its original location.  

Even though the university has added scores of conference and national athletic titles since those early years, the Championship Arch remains the only green and gold metal structure ever erected on campus designed to celebrate Baylor’s athletic successes.  

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