Breaking Ranks

Will Clark was a reluctant Aggie until 12 people died in last year's Bonfire collapse. Now his desire to keep the tradition alive continues to make him an outsider in College Station.

Keep the Fire Burning has not bowed to university pressure. The organizers simply have run into logistical problems. The insurance underwriting didn't come through as quickly as they had hoped it would. As a result, their first cut weekend was postponed, and the members spent the past week butting heads over whether they should continue the project at a rushed pace. Safety, they had always maintained, was their first priority, and they wrestled with hypothetical situations.

What if a tractor breaks and we're two days before Burn? they asked. Would we actually take the time to fix it right, or would we break out the baling wire and try to get it running just long enough to get what we need done? They admitted that in the time crunch they probably would opt for the quick fix. "That's something we want to avoid," Clark says, "especially with all the world watching what we're doing. Being a critical step into possibly changing the future of Bonfire, we want to do it right when we do it....If that means swallowing some pride and waiting another year, then..."

It was hard to let go. Clark is still wearing a "Keep the Fire Burning" T-shirt and a gold KTFB pin in his baseball cap. He's using his key to etch KTFB's plans for Bonfire into the soft wood of the table. In this project, he has found the Bonfire bonding he missed as a freshman.

Clark has formed an uneasy alliance with the boys who would be Bonfire leaders.
Deron Neblett
Clark has formed an uneasy alliance with the boys who would be Bonfire leaders.

"I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, even though we didn't make it this year," he says. "I've made friends through this that I'll probably never lose. That's basically what the root of it all is anyway: just making friends. Some people argue that it's all about the Aggie spirit and all this other mumbo jumbo, trying to turn it into this religious experience. But it really is just about a chance to go out where everybody's on the same level and make great friends and have a good time."

Keep the Fire Burning has not yet decided what to do with the money they raised. There are still some bills to pay, but when those are settled, they will look into their options. If the university has not taken care of all the medical bills of the victims' families, then the money will go to them. Otherwise, they might contribute to the scholarship funds set up in the names of those who died last year. Or maybe they'll set up their own scholarship fund. Then again, Will Clark is no quitter. KTFB could save the money for next year's attempt to give Aggies an alternative to the university's mandates -- whether they want one or not.

"Around here, they don't have a history of questioning leadership.Well, that's what got us here -- not speaking up for yourself when you see problems," Clark says. "I don't want to see that happen again. I don't want to see valid objections raised just to be ignored." It strikes him that maybe this whole ordeal is about more than just building a Bonfire. "This is the first time I've ever spoken up or spoken out about anything," Clark says. You can bet it won't be the last.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets