In some shameless promotion of an organization I hold dear, since we’ve arrived here in the 1930s, it’s time to talk about the origins of what became the Ramblin’ Reck Club.
I think the most incredible part of the story of the origin of the Yellow Jacket Club is how much of it has to do with the prevailing winds of institute politics and the whims of the national economy.
Circa 1930, from what I can find, Tech fielded nine varsity sports: football, basketball, baseball, track and cross country, swimming, golf, tennis, boxing, and lacrosse. Somewhat surprisingly, this is more than the number of active men’s varsity sports today. At the time, there was a distinctly different bureaucracy in place to oversee student activities than in the present day - it fell to the Athletic Association and its board of directors, made up of the athletic director, who was president of the board, three alumni, and three students. Nowadays, there are student governments, student centers, and a whole bunch of administrators students never see. But, back in the day, it was a bit different. The YMCA, located in what is now the Chip Roberts Alumni House, played a role as well, but, for the most part, it was up to athletics.
Conventional wisdom, and indeed the published history of the club, says that head football coach and athletic director William Alexander started the Yellow Jacket Club in 1930 in order to raise what he saw as flagging morale for sports on campus. This is not entirely true. Remember, Tech was just over a year removed from arguably what remains its greatest athletic victory of all time, the 1929 Rose Bowl, an 8-7 win over California highlighted by Roy “Wrong Way” Reigels’ run. Contemporary Tech president M. L. Brittain was sure to note in his book, The Story of Georgia Tech, regarding the news that Tech was the recipient of the last of the Daniel Guggenheim Aeronautical Education Foundation grants. Only New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan, Stanford, CalTech, and a select few others received one, and it was the first acknowledgement of how outstanding of an academic powerhouse we had become, from humble roots in two buildings on the top of a hill on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Brittain observed that Tech students were ambivalent at best about the grant. Little space was dedicated to the news in campus publications. Students kept about their business, standing up a little straighter, perhaps, in his words, but accepting that they were smart and that it was a nice gift. He emphatically noted that the students were so caught up in the thrilling victory on the football field not one year earlier that they were, in fact, too enthralled to notice the aeronautical gift.
If you’ll allow me to don my tin foil conspiracy hat, there’s no way interest fell off that extremely, as Tech had another pretty solid season the next year. The memory of the Rose Bowl lingers with fans for a long time, too. Rather, the invention of Tech’s school sponsored spirit and tradition organization was more a sign of flagging times for Tech as a whole.
As the Great Depression set in, students couldn’t do much more than support the team in spirit and home game attendance dropped as sidewalk fans also could no longer afford tickets to Tech sports. The Yellow Jacket Club was organized to drum up interest, sure, and to promote school spirit and traditions and sports, yeah, but there was an economic slant, too. Tech needed to take drastic measures. Thus, an organization that was as much a marketing arm, in a time when the TV revenue and advertising of today was utterly unimaginable, as it was an instrument of events and mandatory enforcement of tradition.
Student interest wasn’t down - it couldn’t have been. Even if they wanted to miss games, this was a time when attendance at games wasn’t optional. Students loved the Jackets, but they also had to love the Jackets. The thing is, though, the invention of the Yellow Jacket Club didn’t really work, by this logic.
In the spring of 1932, Alex cut the number of scholarship athletes down to just 90 between football, basketball, baseball, and track. Swimming, tennis, golf, lacrosse, and boxing were cut altogether. The former three came back a few years later as self-funded entities - think club sports today but varsity - and were eventually reabsorbed back into the normal system, though not for quite some time, however, swimming and baseball also missed the 1936 seasons. The latter two, boxing and lacrosse, have never returned.
In that regard, was Yellow Jacket Club a failure? I’d say no. There wasn’t much they could’ve done on campus to prevent it. This was, of course, before the modern traditions mandate, homecoming events, and, you know, the whole Reck thing. Those came later. In the early days, their job was simply to get people excited, which, I guess, makes sense. The motto today is still to spread joy. There were no doom and gloom doldrums of Tech spirit. Rather, it was quite high. But where athletics needed help - financially - there’s no way they ever could have changed that.
Since those early days, Yellow Jacket Club has changed a lot, with the primary change being the name now being the Ramblin’ Reck Club. Though it is no longer to wear RAT caps, and no threat of forced haircuts, no coattail parades, no mandatory attendance, the club has picked up more nuanced roles, the club now puts on events, from homecoming to finals, and has taken care of the Ramblin’ Reck itself for half a century. But the later years of the Institute are a story for another time, and so is the story of the Reck.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.