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Posted: October 7, 2009 12:30 a.m.

The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi

How I got invited to a University of Georgia fraternity party at my age isn’t the story here. The story is what I saw when I went there.

It was the Sigma Chi’s annual gathering to select a chapter sweetheart. Sigma Chis the nation over take selecting a sweetheart seriously because somebody once immortalized young ladies so chosen with a popular song entitled, appropriately enough, "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi."

A banquet preceded the party. I don’t know what I expected. I had seen "Animal House." I knew that it was only a short time ago the college campus was a social battleground. Sometimes, it was just a battleground.

But what, I asked myself, are the prevailing moods and customs of the campus on this, the eve of the 1980s?

I know about the early sixties. It was button-down, slick-it-back, eat, drink and chase Mary in the tight skirt and monogrammed sweater. The late sixties and early seventies were angry and hip and taking things that made you crazy and wearing clothes to look the part.

The Sigma Chis on this night came dressed as a GQ ad. They were three-pieced and button-downed and blown-dried almost to a man. Their dates were clones from the Phi Mu house 15 years ago.

The chapter president, whose hair was shorter than mine, opened with a moving invocation. Gentlemen rose from their seats when ladies excused themselves from the tables. The dinner lasted well over an hour. Nobody threw a single morsel of food.

When the new sweetheart was introduced, the chapter stood as one and sang her their delicate, obviously inspired rendition of the sweetheart song while she cried. Donna Reed would have played her part. John Belushi would have been asked to leave.

There was some loosening up when the party began, but the frolic that followed wouldn’t have qualified as even a mild public disturbance.

The band played Marvin Gaye’s "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," "Sixty Minute Man," and the Temptation’s "My Girl." I know all the words to all three songs.

A young man asked for something by Jackie Wilson, and the band gave him "Lonely Teardrops." Who turned back the time machine?

The booze was mostly beer. Somebody had a half-gallon of Jim Beam bourbon and was pouring it into Coca-Cola. The smokers I saw were pulling on Marlboros.

Later in the evening, a small ice fight broke out — it always did — and everybody danced the "Gator." I know grown people who still dance the "Gator," which involves lying on the floor and acting like a half-crazed reptile with a bad case of the shakes.

The University of Georgia was never a leader in the radical league and the war is over now and things are quieter everywhere, but it did occur to me after the Sigma Chi party that perhaps life on the campus has returned to normal, sis-boom-bah.

• Fraternities and sororities, spurned by many students just a few years ago, are making a big comeback at Georgia. "We are nearly overrun during rush," a Sigma Chi told me.

• Pot smoking is still prevalent among some students, I was told, but "drinking is back stronger than ever." Sigma Chi fines members caught smoking pot in the fraternity house.

• Political activism is down on the Georgia campus. SDS is dead and gone. The student body president ran with a bag over his head, the "Unknown Candidate" with no platform. He won in a walk.

The strongest and most active group on campus, believe it or not, is the Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative, pro-Reagan outfit.

"They don’t want to stop a war," said an editor at the student newspaper; "they want to start one."

Wonders never cease, and spring quarter approaches. Let’s go get a six-pack and have a panty raid.

Lewis Grizzard was a syndicated columnist, who took pride in his Southern roots and often wrote about them. This column is part of a collection of his work.

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