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Bonfire Tragedy>Story Archives>June 2000

Online discussions flare up following announcement

By JOHN LeBAS
Eagle Staff Writer


Calls for unity were largely drowned out by online sparring at a popular Aggie Web site following Friday’s Bonfire announcement by Texas A&M University President Ray Bowen.

Opinions flared heatedly at TexAgs.com after Bowen said the 90-year-old, student-run Bonfire tradition would return to campus in 2002, but with a drastic increase in professional and university oversight. Bonfire 1999 collapsed Nov. 18, killing 12 Aggies and injuring 27 others.

TexAgs.com’s online message board filled with those who supported Bowen’s decision, opposed it or fell somewhere in between. The site, which promotes A&M sports and activities, is not affiliated with the university.

Site users wore their hearts on their sleeves — posts to Internet message boards can be made with aliases to keep true identities unknown.

“The students never should have given away control in the first place. It’s still not too late to take it back,” complained one user.

“I see only one solution. Build it once more with all the supervision and scrutiny they want, then burn it one last time for the Aggie 12. Then end it once and for all,” offered another.

Message forums allow near-real-time conversations among Web users. Unlike Internet “chat,” forum users post specific topics and replies, which can be called up and referenced indefinitely.

As TexAgs.com primarily attracts die-hard Aggie supporters, its message forums don’t represent across-the-board opinion. But on Friday there was obviously a high level of divisiveness among those A&M supporters — some of whom pledged to give no money to their alma mater or even return their symbolic senior rings.

Statements trashing Bowen’s decision outweighed those supporting it, in intensity if not in number. Some speculated that the decision amounted to little more than a public-relations time cushion, after which the tradition will die.

“There will not ever be a Bonfire again,” stated one poster. “... What Bowen proposed is a Home Depot fire. ... I wish Bowen had just come out and say today what we will hear in two years: Bonfire is over.”

Scattered calls for Bowen’s resignation, however, were largely trounced. “This is misguided scapegoating,” wrote a poster in response to one such request.

Others offered ideas for getting around Bowen’s decision, namely by holding a “rebel” Bonfire off-campus. Among other suggestions: Form a small company that would hire student workers for cut, the annual gathering of logs for the structure. Bowen mandated Friday that future cuts would be contracted out to private companies.

Peacemakers pleaded for Aggies to stick together, accept Bowen’s decision and move forward from November’s tragedy.

“A renegade Bonfire is not the answer. ... If it’s Bowen’s plan or no Bonfire at all, I say cancel it!!” said one poster.

Beyond the protests and support lingered a widespread feeling: that Bonfire’s relevance to the “Aggie spirit” — the sense of camaraderie among Aggies that many say makes the school unique — will be dashed.

“What will Bonfire be for the students? Two weeks of placing logs on their ends inside a fenced and guarded compound. That is all,” complained a poster. “Just get rid of the whole thing if that is what it will be. The purpose of the tradition has been gutted. Instead, let’s all meet at Kyle Field for a yell practice and a candlelight vigil for the 12.”

On the Web

www.texags.com

John LeBas’ e-mail address is jlebas@theeagle.com