The itching to keep the friendly rivalry alive was enough motivation for him. On a late Tuesday night in 1974, while working on deadline in the shared office space in the basement of the Campus Center, Alan Miller cunningly decided to “play a little joke” on the then Prickly Pear editor who had gone home for the night. The timing and the plan were perfect.
“We really don’t know why we did it,” the 1974-75 Optimist editor said. “I’m sure there were some things that led up to it.”
With the help of other Optimist staffers, Miller crept toward the door of Cheryl Bacon’s Prickly Pear office just a few steps away. Miller had to stand on a chair to reach the ceiling as he lifted the tiles to gain access to the locked yearbook office. The mission was simple: toss older, crumpled-up editions of the newspaper into Bacon’s office and fill the entire 10-by-10 foot room from bottom to top with individual wads of the on-campus newspaper – predictable, yet certainly unexpected.
Mission accomplished. When Bacon returned to work the next day, hundreds of balled-up newspapers flooded the floor around Bacon’s feet.
“She tried to figure out how we did it with the door locked,” Miller said. “She was a wee bit surprised.”
Fun, pranks and games are one side of the Optimist students and faculty rarely get to see, but is one of the most common experiences among staffers, especially in late-night, deadline settings. Miller, now in assistant public affairs management for State Farm Insurance in Colorado, and other former editors and staff members have similar memories that reveal a behind-the-scenes look into the everyday publishing of the 100 year-old Optimist. Fun and games are as much a part of the Optimist as the journalism itself.
Former Optimist managing editor Deana Nall, now a freelance writer near Little Rock, Ark., recalls an awkward moment during her time working for the paper. When she managed The Optimist in 1992-93, the office was in the Don Morris building on the third floor with big windows overlooking Mabee Hall. Many Optimist staffers frequently work late nights trying to make the paper a reality for the following morning. And late hours plus open windows can lead to some interesting stories.
Nall said she and other late-night workers could see straight into the freshman men’s dorm – and not necessarily by choice.
“The guys in Mabee didn’t think we could see into their dorms,” Nall said. “The Optimist windows just happened to face Mabee.”
“One guy actually looked up and saw a group of people looking at him,” Nall said. “We weren’t trying to be perverted, it was just funny.”
Awkward moments seemed to define Nall’s time at The Optimist. Nall and her friend Susie French wanted to kill some time and provide some entertainment for the rest of the staff who was attentively working on the paper. The duo made up a dance routine to the hit song, Hard Knock Life, a hit song from the Broadway musical, Annie, intending to execute their cover version flash mob-style. The performance was anticlimactic. As the friends waved their arms and kicked their feet with dynamic enthusiasm, no one acknowledged them.
“We were supposed to be working on the paper, but we burst into song where everyone was working,” Nall said. “No one even turned to look. It’s like we didn’t even exist.”
The fun does not stop at crumpled up newspapers, open blinds and flash mobs. One game that seems to have withstood the test of time is chair-racing. This game can be traced in Optimist history to before the 1970s and into the 1980s and 1990s in the long halls of the Don Morris Building, though the sport has seemed to have taken a back seat to other recent activities such as ping pong and Xbox. Chair races took place at that certain time of the night when everyone was tired and jittery at the same time, say former staffers.
“What it is, you get two people on rolling chairs and start at the door of the Optimist,” said former ’90-’91 sports editor Lance Fleming, describing the intensity of the spur-of-the-moment game. “You’re facing backwards, and you go as fast as you could down the length of the hall and back again. I’ve busted my head on the floors and the walls.”
Not everyone was cut out for such glory, said Fleming, including Wendell Edwards, now an anchor and reporter for Eyewitness News 5 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“Wendell Edwards, he was a horrible chair racer,” Fleming said. “We beat him like a mule every time we went up and down the halls.”
Competition, enjoyment, excitement and awkwardness are very much a part of Optimist history. Behind the journalism, designing and story assignments, through optimistic times, through pessimistic times, beyond the awards and recognitions, fun and games are and have been a huge part of alumni recollections. Alan Miller loves to look back at his time on staff. He finds the fun times and the serious times go hand-in-hand to create his good memories of his experience with the Optimist.
“We had a good-natured staff working together,” Miller said. “Everybody was there because they wanted to be. It was great training for all of us.”
But Miller’s memories stem further than just great training and good-natured people. He was proud to be a part of something bigger than him.
“What I remember most are those Tuesday nights putting something together we could be proud of and share with the entire school. The Optimist is just an amazing tradition; it’s just outstanding. It’s the kind of program the school needs, and it’s one that former students like me appreciate very well.”
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