Purple or Gold? It’s a question University of Montevallo students have been asking themselves for 100 years.
Called “College Night,” Montevallo’s homecoming tradition divides students into two teams based on the school’s colors for a competition each February.
Where most schools celebrate homecoming on the football field or basketball court, Montevallo takes to the stage, as each side puts on a one-act musical.
Everything is original and created by students – the show’s script, lyrics, music, choreography, costumes, set design and more. An independent panel of judges names a winner after several days of performances.
“Trying to define College Night in one simple, neat phrase is difficult to do,” said Marion Brown, Montevallo’s director of facility and event scheduling. She also oversees UM’s College Night Committee at her alma mater and has first-hand experience participating as a Purple leader in 1994.
College Night traces its roots back to 1919 as a competition between classes. That changed to two color-coded teams two years later. Since then, each side has developed its personality and traditions, complete with a motto, song and mascot – the Golds chose a lion and the Purples a cow.
In addition to the main event on stage, intramural sports and other aspects have been added to the competition to give all students a chance to participate.
“There’s a place for everyone in this, and it’s a reflection of what we value as a liberal arts university,” Brown said. “It’s amazing to watch all these students grow and learn about themselves and their peers from participating in College Night – to watch them become more confident, creative individuals.”
The university has planned a weekend of festivities for College Night’s centennial Feb. 6-9, including a parade through Montevallo and reunions.
Intense but friendly rivalry
The Iron Bowl, the annual football rivalry game between Alabama and Auburn, dominates talk in the state 365 days a year. But participants in College Night say their game is the more intense rivalry.
As a baby, Jeff Walker’s mom soothed him to sleep by singing the Gold Side song. Both his parents are Montevallo alumni, and he knew at an early age he wanted to follow in their footsteps. He did exactly that, serving as a Gold leader in 2008.
“Everyone says the Iron Bowl is the biggest rivalry in the state of Alabama, but they haven’t seen College Night,” Walker said. “Tuscaloosa and Auburn are, at the end of the day, across the state from each other. At Montevallo, you sit next to your rivals in class the next day, stay in the dorms with your rivals every single day.”
Zachary Banks led the Purple Side opposite of Walker. He agreed it’s a rivalry that you can’t escape at a university with an enrollment of fewer than 2,500 students.
Being such a close-knit campus, Banks said students see their rivals as more than just “the team to beat” – more like worthy adversaries and friends. He tells people, “I hate the Gold Side, but I love the individuals on that side.”
Win or lose (Purples lead 51-48 all-time) – you learn to empathize with the other side, Banks said.
“You can still feel the heart of the people who played the game, who are hurting. That’s real rivalry – still being able to shake hands, still being able to be friends.”
College Night is not just a family affair for Walker. Many students enroll at Montevallo because they were raised coming to College Night with parents or other family members who are alumni.
Mary Reid Howard led the Gold Side in 1991 and is the mother of the current Gold Side leader, Ryan Howard.
“I had gone to a lot of College Nights in my youth. That was some of my favorite times because it was so crazy, college people just yelling at musical theater,” Ryan said. “It was so strange because when you go to a normal theater show, you just sit and clap when the number is done.”
Mary said she has a new appreciation for College Night watching the competition through her son’s eyes.
“My experience as a Gold was amazing and wonderful, and I cherish every minute of it, but seeing it through the eyes of my son has changed the game for me,” she said. “As proud as I was for my time here, I am a million times prouder watching him develop.”
And one other thing: Ryan probably wouldn’t be here today without College Night. Mary got engaged to Ryan’s father, Joe, a former Montevallo SGA president, on the College Night stage.
“He saw me in the show in ’89 and asked me out about a week after that College Night. So, it was fitting my senior year he walked in the middle of the stage and had a dozen roses and proposed to me in front of the whole side, and of course there were Purples behind,” Mary said. “College Night was so important to us as a couple because we had those memories of seeing each other. It was important that he make that night even extra-special.”
Suspense in the air
College Night kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 6, and continues Thursday and Friday as both sides perform for their fellow students, alumni and the public. The event culminates Saturday with the announcement of a winner. Tickets vary from $5 to $15 and are available online at https://www.montevallo.edu/about-um/traditions/college-night/ticket-information/.