The students and faculty at Stephen F. Austin State University have bred several strong traditions since the school's founding, and, as SFA closes in on its 85th birthday, new traditions are born almost yearly. It's no coincidence that nearly all of SFA's rituals and customs have ties to Lumberjack and Ladyjack athletics, a rallying point for school spirit since the university's beginnings.
The oldest campus tradition also is the most easily recognized one. Future students find it staring them in the faces before they set foot in an SFA classroom. When high schoolers tear open the envelope containing their letters of acceptance to the university, the first line boldly reads, "Congratulations! You're a Lumberjack!"
Since the university first opened its doors in 1923, SFA's athletic teams and students in general have been known as the Lumberjacks. The nickname was chosen in an assembly held shortly after the institution officially opened classes. Students and faculty met to debate the merits of several potential nicknames, with the proponents of each choice leading cheers to rally support for their proposed mascots. T.E. Ferguson -- a professor of English at the time, whose name now adorns an academic building on campus -- submitted "Lumberjacks," a nickname he found appropriate for a university surrounded by the piney woods of Deep East Texas. The assembly agreed. With the arrival of the first women's basketball team in the late 1930s, SFA's female athletes took on the moniker of Ladyjacks, a nickname chosen by two of the campus's pioneers in women's athletics -- Drs. Lucille Norton and June Irwin.
One special SFA tradition earns national attention each year as the college football season winds down and bitter rivalries are hashed out all over the country. When the Lumberjack football team takes on rival Northwestern State, there are more than just bragging rights up for grabs. The two teams battle each year with the winner taking home the largest football trophy in the nation -- Chief Caddo.
The Chief is seven feet, six inches tall and weighs more than 320 pounds. Chief Caddo is in his late 40s, having been carved from a 2,000-pound black gum log following the 1961 football game between the two teams. The statue is named to honor the Caddos -- a Native American tribe indigenous to the area. As legend has it, a Caddo chief and his two sons are responsible for the settling of Nacogdoches and Natchitoches, La. -- home to Northwestern State -- each of which is recognized as the oldest settlement in its respective state.
Anyone lucky enough to be on campus for an SFA victory over the Demons will have the chance to see the Lumberjack football team rally around the statue of Chief Caddo and celebrate the fact that he will reside in the Homer Bryce Stadium field house for the next calendar year. Following the game, if fans look to the south of the stadium, they'll be able to see another important SFA tradition in action.
After every SFA victory in any sport, at home or on the road, the university turns on a pair of large purple lights that sit atop the Steen towers. The building's roofs remains illuminated all night to let all who see it know that their Lumberjacks or Ladyjacks were victorious.
The lights atop Steen can be seen all over campus, but another Lumberjack tradition can be heard -- and sometimes felt -- all over town. At every home football game, the SFA ROTC cadets man a 75 mm cannon dubbed "Ole Cotton." From its station beyond the south end zone at Homer Bryce Stadium, the big gun puts an exclamation point on every SFA scoring strike, as the cadets fire off a round to rally the Lumberjacks and their fans.
Homecoming week is full of opportunities for SFA students, fans and alumni to gather in support of their school. The Alumni Association sponsors an alumni golf tournament, silent auction, benefit drawing and Duck Dash -- a water race featuring rubber ducks -- during the week. On game day, the main event leading up to tailgate and the football game is a parade downtown. The night before the game, the SFA band and spirit squads lead a torchlight parade through campus and out to the intramural fields, where the torch is used to light SFA's annual homecoming bonfire.
A new tradition that also involves fire is the Burn Shirt program. Begun by the Student Activities Association in an effort to increase school spirit on campus, the Burn Shirt initiative encourages students to get rid of apparel that is branded with the logos and names of other universities. Students can trade other schools' merchandise for an SFA T-shirt. The shirts are known as Burn Shirts, because, in the project's formative days, the discarded apparel from other colleges was burned on a bonfire in a spirit rally setting. But in 2007, it was decided that a more productive use of the unwanted gear would be to donate it to local shelters and charitable organizations. The idea remains the same, though, proclaimed in the words of the Burn Shirts: "Lumberjack Spirit Burns In My Soul!"
One of the newest traditions on campus helps Lumberjacks identify one another long after they graduate and leave Nacogdoches behind. The SFA Mentor Ring is a specially designed ring that has been adopted as the university's official class ring. More than just a piece of jewelry, the Mentor Ring comes with an SFA mentor for each student. These mentors ensure that the students' last months at SFA are on the right track to graduation and beyond. Students receive their Mentor Rings in a ceremony called the Big Dip. At this ceremony, held in the middle of campus, students have their hands dipped in purple dye before being presented with their rings.
Each of these customs and rituals plays its own role in making the SFA experience unique. Get involved, find your niche, and maybe you could be responsible for the next great Lumberjack tradition.