Meet the first African-American Homecoming queen
This win was much more than a crown during a football game.
Reverend Sheila N. Bouie-Sledge ran for queen in fall 1971 knowing she wanted to represent independent students, commuters and those who would be the first college graduates in their families.
“I had been really, really active politically on campus,” she said. She served in student government and worked as a resident assistant.
Bouie-Sledge became the first African-American Homecoming Queen at what was then Southwest Missouri State. Given the racial turmoil of the time, she was stunned by her victory.
“I was extremely excited and very shocked, just almost disbelief. … I just can’t tell you. I just wanted us, as individuals and people, to love and be respectful toward each other,” she said.
In college with her twin
When she earned her degree in political science in 1972, she became the first person in her family to complete a bachelor’s degree.
She didn’t do it alone: Her twin sister, Dr. Sylvia Saddler, also attended MSU, and they spent their days together despite being placed in different rooms in the residence hall. “They couldn’t keep us apart, to be honest with you!”
They still talk or see each other daily.
“She’s absolutely artistic and I’m absolutely political. I’m not artistic at all,” Bouie-Sledge said.
Bouie-Sledge is still grateful for how the school helped both sisters grow. “I think about what that campus provided for us, a very safe haven to be who God called us to be and to recognize that and to find ourselves. What we did there was like a launch pad for the rest of our lives.”
‘Homecoming is significant’
Saddler retired as a St. Louis Public School District principal and art teacher, and Bouie-Sledge is now an associate pastor at Salem United Methodist Church in Ladue, Missouri. She is working on a doctorate of divinity, and her ordainment ceremony was actually held in Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. She is also an inspirational speaker and started a nonprofit dedicated to diversity.
Bouie-Sledge has returned to the MSU campus for other Homecomings.
“I let people know I was Queen for the school, and they say, ‘wow.’ It actually did happen, and it was worth the work, it was worth the push,” Bouie-Sledge said.
To her, Homecoming can help people reflect.
Bouie-Sledge said, “If there are things we know we should improve, we have a responsibility to do it in such a way that is a positive change. We’re called to step out. We’re educated, we’re strong, we’re smart, and if we just do what little part we’re called to do, the rest of it will fall in place.”
Meet the first man to run for homecoming queen
In the 1970s, when gender roles were being examined and redefined, college homecomings around the U.S. were not immune to satire.
In 1971, a refrigerator was actually crowned homecoming queen of the University of Chicago.
Missouri State students had heard rumors about other schools nominating cows and animal mascots.
So when Mark Robinett’s buddy, Will Rogers, saw a paper saying it was the last day to sign up to run for the 1976 MSU Homecoming queen, he “hopped up right then, went up there and signed me up,” Robinett said.
He found out there were rules about running for queen.
“You had to have a sponsoring organization, and have the president sign off. Well, it just happened that I was president of the Spanish Club. I had no problem securing my own signature!”
For Robinett, a straight man, it wasn’t a push for big social change, or any kind of huge commentary on men and women. He told The Standard in a story published Oct. 1, 1976, that a very small percentage of students voted in MSU Homecoming elections, and he just wanted to shake things up and address the apathy he saw.
The move fit into character for Robinett, who worked as a train robber at Silver Dollar City for five years during school breaks.
“We got paid for acting silly, and quite frankly, I’ve never recovered,” he said. “No one believes me now that I used to be shy in high school. I’m telling you, when you act silly in front of thousands of people a day, you get over being shy.”
However, The Standard article noted that he was disqualified before voting started due to the wording of regulations regarding the elections.
He admits some people were concerned he was mocking a campus tradition, but says most of the administration was “very cool throughout the whole process.”
He had a chance to meet with Dr. Duane Meyer, the university president who talked with him during his disqualification, in the middle of his career. Robinett, who earned a bachelor’s degree in French in 1978, started selling photocopiers after college. He eventually became a Minolta dealer.
Robinett ran his own business in Springfield, Robinett Business Systems, for 23 years. He sold it about eight or nine years ago.
“Years (after the Homecoming kerfuffle) I got inducted into Rotary Club, the business organization. When I got down off the podium, Dr. Meyer was the first guy that came up and congratulated me. He was very gracious about it. Of course, he was long over it by that time.”
The entire experience didn’t dim Robinett’s enthusiasm for Missouri State, and he still says running for queen was one of his favorite college memories.
Now, he frequently comes to sports events “to yell for the Bears.”
He was the first person to attend Missouri State in his family, and now a handful of his children, stepchildren and children-in-law are attendees or alumni.
Meet the first Homecoming king
Dave Cox, a speech communication major, never planned on running for Homecoming king.
Until his junior year at Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State University), the title of Homecoming king didn’t even exist.
From 1940 to 1978, the Missouri State Homecoming queen sustained a solitary reign. It wasn’t until 1979 that the Student Government Association cleared the way for a king to join the court.
Cox, a 1980 graduate of Missouri State, was perfectly content with staying on the sidelines of the first-ever campaign for king.
His friends had other plans.
A strong candidate for king needed to have excellent grades, a high level of involvement on campus and a personality infused with school spirit. Attending college in the era of “Animal House,” Cox assumed that the first man to be crowned king would most likely be a member of a fraternity.
When a group of friends from Wells House asked for his permission to nominate him, however, he said yes.
After Cox gave his friends the green light, Wells House held a meeting to select its candidate. During the meeting, each potential candidate answered the question, “If there is one person in the world you could be, who would it be?”
Cox’s answer would eventually secure his nomination.
“I paused to think for a moment, and then said, ‘Me,’” said Cox. “I felt that I had a really blessed life. I was surrounded by people who loved me and challenged me to be my best. I couldn’t imagine being anyone else.”
Once the campaign began, Cox and his friends created posters and other materials to encourage students to vote for him. One of his favorite memories of the campaign was getting to know the other candidates.
“They were an incredible group of people,” said Cox.
At the Friday night pep rally, Dave Cox was announced as Missouri State’s first-ever Homecoming king.
He was stunned.
In the aftermath of his win, ICTHUS saw a noticeable increase in attendance. Cox continued in his leadership role until graduation in December 1980.
Since then, Cox completed his master’s degree and worked in full-time ministry for many years. He counts himself blessed to be surrounded by six children, two grandchildren and his wife, Ashley.
Now a wealth advisor with KC Financial Advisors, Cox continues to pursue a lifestyle that seeks to serve others. This attitude was first instilled in him by friends and mentors during his time at Missouri State.
“I remember professors who genuinely cared, friends who helped me become a better person and roommates who challenged me to make good decisions,” said Cox. “Drawing from those influences, I’ve had the opportunity to pour myself into people and be there for them in the highs and lows.”
Meet the first person to ever be Boomer
It was fall 1981. Traci Sooter, ’84, was invited to join the then-SMS cheerleaders at a football game in Jefferson City, Missouri.
The cheerleaders had two suits for the mascot, called “The Bear.” The cheerleader currently playing The Bear had hoped to focus just on cheering instead. So Sooter wore the extra suit and “beared it” with the spirit squad.
“The mascot suit we had looked like it might be for a high school. It just had little mittens and there were no feet for The Bear. You could see my tennis shoes underneath; the head was just a little bit better than a paper-mâché head. And it had no name. It was just ‘The Bear.’”
That summer, Sooter was sent to a spirit camp in Memphis, Tennessee, to receive mascot training with other students from all around the country. Once she saw the other mascots, Sooter knew The Bear needed some work, especially if it was going to be up-to-par with other universities. It would need a personality — a name, a walk, gestures and antics. It would also need a new suit.
Sooter set out to make The Bear better. She worked with then-Athletic Director Bill Rowe to create a contest with prizes for The Bear’s name and a fundraiser for The Bear’s suit.
The 1984 Ozarko reported that Wendy’s sponsored the naming contest and helped generate money to buy the costume.
Soon, it was official. The Bear would become Boomer.
“It was fantastic. I really wanted to make our mascot into something that was competitive with the big universities across the country.”
The name was announced at the Dec. 8, 1983, basketball game.
Boomer’s personality was coming to life. He just needed a new suit to match.
Shortly after the name change, Rowe told Sooter the full amount of money had been raised for the suit. Sooter worked with Rowe to design and develop the suit.
When the new suit arrived, Sooter was thrilled. It was bigger, better and long-awaited — and they would get to unveil the new suit before she graduated.
It was ready for football season, including Homecoming, in 1984.