Billy Mac, Southwest Texas State President from 1969-1973, throws the first snowball of the annual fight on campus in 1971.
Photo courtesy of University Archives
Ann Mary Moore, Michigan Tech Carvinal Queen, and Anne Lochte, Southwest Texas State All-Campus Beauty, look at a hockey puck at the winter carnival in Houghton, Michigan.
Snowless Texas winters have long been a source of disappointment for students craving sledding, snowmen and especially snowball fights. However, in the 1960s and 70s Southwest Texas State received boxes of winter cheer from Michigan Technological University and sent a little southern hositality to the north in exchange.
Thanks to students at Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., Southwest Texas State engaged in snowball fights from 1964-1979 as part of the “Snowballs to Texas” exchange program.
The exchange began as a joke among friends when Bruce Roche, former director of the SWT News Service, spoke with a colleague who took a position at Michigan Tech. Roy Moses, the former SWT professor, called Roche to pose the idea of shipping snow to the typically snow-less San Marcos campus, and a tradition was born.
The event served as a promotional tool for Michigan Tech’s annual Winter Carnival, which is held each year during the first full week in February. Its chapter of the Blue Key Honor Society organizes the event, and its members reached out to SWT in the early 1960s as a way to further promote the carnival.
Thus, Michigan Tech began packing dry ice-lined boxes with either pre-formed snowballs or loose snow ready to be shaped. The crates containing the equivalent of approximately 500 snowballs were then flown to San Antonio on the day of SWT’s event.
The fight became a popular activity among SWT students each year, as teams of sororities and fraternities gathered in the area that is now Bobcat Trail to battle teams of faculty, athletes or other student organizations.
Each year, the university president or another SWT administrator would throw out the first snowball, followed by a structured procession of fights. Organizations battled it out behind wooden barriers until the collection of snowballs was spent — a process which typically lasted around 20 minutes.
Publicity for both universities and for the Winter Carnival soared as pictures of snow-hurtling coeds and beauty queens appeared in news coverage nationwide.
Michigan Tech historically had a low female to male student ratio, a phenomenon almost entirely reversed on the hills of SWT. Thus, the SWT Press Association, which organized both the snowball fight and the All-Campus Beauty Pageant found a way to provide Michigan Tech with something it lacked — women.
In 1974, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the exchange, the association made the grand prize of the beauty pageant a trip to Michigan for the Winter Carnival. The contest was open to all students and operated as a typical pageant, with the exception of a talent portion. The winner was flown to Michigan where she acted as a judge and honored guest for all the activities of the carnival.
John “Sarge” Helge was a Michigan Tech forestry student involved in the Blue Key Honor Society during his undergraduate career from 1972-1976. He served as president his senior year.
As Blue Key president, Helge was invited to San Marcos to judge the beauty pageant. During his stay in San Marcos, Helge said he was treated to the best the city had to offer — he took campus tours, met top administrators and got his first taste of “real” Mexican food.
“The thing I remember most was for those four glorious days I had 40 of the most beautiful women trying to impress me,” Helge said. “I was amazed at San Marcos, your university and obviously the abundance of coeds there. I almost broke my neck a couple times, you’ve got to understand.”
Anne Lochte, 1974 All-Campus Beauty Queen, was introduced to Helge during her trip to Michigan when he hosted her for the week of the carnival. The two became close friends over a five-day adventure complete with ice-sculptures, hockey games, sledding and cross-country skiing.
Now Anne Linahan, she was the second SWT pageant queen to be sent to Michigan. At the time it was only her second venture outside of Texas and her first and last trip to the north. She still remembers her visit fondly.
“I think that’s when I fell in love with going somewhere and wanting to see something different,” Linahan said. “It’s so cold and even though they talked with an accent and the food was different, (but) I realized everybody has a story and I loved learning a whole (new) way of life.”
In the 10 years preceding the snowballs-for-belles trade, cacti and other Texan basics made their way to Michigan Tech as thanks. A surprise in the form of a wintery storm in 1966 provided SWT ammunition to gift their northern sister school with two 20-pound balls of Texas snow.
Despite significant student attendance, national publicity and a glimpse of Southern beauty for the sore eyes of Michigan men, the last snowballs were thrown in February of 1979.
Speculations abound, but documentation explaining the official reason has become lost over the years.
Searches through records at University Archives of both Texas State and Michigan Tech and cataloged copies of the University Star produced no definitive answer. Neither of the former SWT News Service directors who served during the years of the trade could provide explanation.
Kris Toma, University Archivist and Records Manager, said the lack of documentation is unfortunate, but not uncommon in the way of historical records.
Though the tradition has melted away, alumni still cherish the friendships and cultural exchanges made with Michigan Tech.