Sewanee is, above all, Southern. Dr. Reynold Kirby-Smith, son of the last Confederate general to surrender and the last to die, was a strong partisan of Sewanee athletics before his death in 1962. Hardee Field, for football, honors another Rebel general. And then there is English Professor Abbott (Abbo) Cotten Martin, a legendary hater of Yankees—and Germans. "A German," says Professor Martin, "is nothing but a Yankee carried to its logical conclusion."
Franklin County seceded from Tennessee when it thought the state was too slow leaving the Union. The only President ever to visit Sewanee, William Howard Taft, was greeted by shades drawn and windows shuttered so that the occupants would not have to look on a Republican President. The student union was named for donor Jacob Thompson, who was in charge of all Confederate espionage and who planned the dramatic raid on St. Albans, Vt.
As Varnell says, "There's a story about every whoop and holler." Shake Rag Hollow and Thumpin' Dick Hollow, just down off the escarpment, were places where you waved a handkerchief or thumped a hollow log, respectively, to summon the local moonshiner.
Bishop Leonidas Polk, the principal founder, a West Point man and the man who helped select Sewanee's location, "by merit of...railway contiguity...[and] mountain air and pure water...beyond the reach of epidemics," accepted a Confederate commission partly because Union sympathizers burned Sewanee buildings after Lincoln's election. Ironically, Yankee troops later occupied Sewanee, burning more buildings and breaking the original cornerstone to bits.
It is said that fragments of the cornerstone can still be found scattered among the acorns and red-oak leaves. But even if they are not, the looking, under the tall oaks and maples, is worth the while, as is almost any walk between Sewanee's Tennessee-sandstone buildings or around its 10,000-acre domain. From a score or more of cliffs, bluffs and steeps, there open out broad vistas of dozens of rich coves and valleys worthy of Dan'l Boone's first vision of Kaintuck.
That huge domain atop a mountain is what keeps Sewanee unique. Yet acceptance of it in a wilderness grant was not universally approved. Kentucky Bishop Benjamin Smith admonished, "Sewanee [is] totally impractical...manners and dress of professors and their families will become careless, rude, provincial: and those of the students boorish...."
At boorish Sewanee in 1969, all professors wear academic gowns in class and students are not allowed to walk the campus without coat and tie. The Episcopalians—who deliberately admit just over 50% heathen—hold firm control. A democratic and libertarian conservatism flourishes in the Jeffersonian tradition. The football team's popular and talented fullback is a Negro, and Bishop Otey's founding dictum—"University of the South is a name of convenient description; it is no party war cry, no sectional password"—is obeyed to the extent that even an Easterner is safe on the streets.
Sometimes the spirit of tolerance gets absolutely out of hand. At a game two years ago the Tiger cheerleaders despairingly pleaded, "C'mon, will y'all stand up and yell? Please?" "No," the crowd yelled. "Not a chance?" asked the cheerleader. "No," the crowd said. "We're gonna make you stand up," the megaphone man threatened. "We're gonna play the national anthem." The band played Dixie. Nobody moved. The cheerleader was vexed: "What are y'all, a bunch of Yankees?" Everybody stood up and cheered.
Further illustrating their ferocity and fervor as fans, the Arcadian Tigers bring books along to read at basketball games. Fortunately, the fellows who play the game are fiercer. In fact, they work right hard, running continuously throughout Varnell's two-hour practices. About the only time they stop is when Varnell yells, "Hold it! Hold it. Right thayuh!" and imparts some pearls of wisdom. "We've discussed this," he says. "Don't shoot with a hand in your face. You'll never make 50%," or, "You made a YMCA pass and lost the ball," or, "You haven't been going back to your rooms and thinking about the 3-on-2 situation."
The University of the South's record is not what it was. But Sewanee's hard-worked collection of rejects still visibly improve week by week. This year's Tigers, four of whom never played high school basketball, work intensely at forcing breaks, at rolling back to receive passes, at remembering to key an outside play with a bounce pass to a forward. Varnell is impressed. "These boys," he says in a hushed voice, winding up for some oratory, "are willing to pay the price. Pay the price. That's the philosophy I've lived by."