A Sun Bowl of Frosted Flakes
Tony the Tiger ushers in new era of Sun Bowl history
By Lisa Kay Tate
One of the country’s oldest bowl games will celebrate its 86th year with a new title sponsor that hearkens back to the game’s very beginnings. The game began in El Paso High School’s Tiger Stadium, and another tiger now serves as the official sponsor.
Despite the new name, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl will carry on many traditions spanning the calendar and will continue to include such time-honored traditions as the Sun Court, Sun Bowl Art Exhibit and the Sun Bowl Parade, as well as the annual collegiate golf and basketball tournaments that also have their own history going back decades.
The El Paso High Bowl
The Sun Bowl, first played in 1935, is the second oldest game in the country (the Rose Bowl has been played annually since 1916). The original Sun Bowl wasn’t played at the Sun Bowl, and it wasn’t even a college game.
“The first Sun Bowl was held on Jan. 1 of 1935 at El Paso High School, and was between two high school teams, an all-star team from El Paso’s high schools, and a team from Ranger, Texas,” said Bernie Olivas, executive director of the Sun Bowl Association. That inaugural game raised money for an orphanage and local underprivileged children, as well as to help with renovations for El Paso High’s stadium.
The game featured college teams beginning in its second year, in a matchup between New Mexico State and Hardin-Simmons. In 1938, the game moved to Kidd Field at El Paso’s College of Mines and Metallurgy, what is now UTEP.
“The game was played at Kidd Field from 1938 to 1962, before the new Sun Bowl Stadium was built in 1963,” Olivas said. The first Sun Bowl game at the new stadium featured SMU and Oregon
The game has been played ever since at the Sun Bowl, which itself has grown along with the game, increasing stadium seating to 50,000 in the early 1980s. This year, Olivas said, the stadium will make take out some seats to improve access for the disabled, and as well as to enhance the entire game experience for all attendees.
One of the most significant changes to the game over the years, he added, is being aligned since 2011 with Pacific 12 Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference. This has helped the Sun Bowl get a better pick of teams, since there are so many bowl games now competing for schools.
“In the past, you really had to fight for teams, but it works out well for us with these conferences,” Olivas said.
Olivas said making teams feel welcome is one thing that the Sun Bowl does well.
“We want to make sure the teams and fans receive a level of generosity they won’t get in other towns,” Olivas said. “We roll out the red carpet for them, and treat them as honored guests to our city.”
He noted that in other, larger cities that host bowl games, a bowl game is merely part of a greater pool of tourism-driven attractions. But in El Paso, the Sun Bowl is the biggest attraction the week after Christmas, Olivas said, emphasizing that city leaders, businesses and residents join together to make it as special for the visiting teams and fans as it is for residents.
In addition, the actual “Sun Bowl” activities begin more than a month in advance, with such events as the Sun Bowl Art Exhibition, the All-America Golf Classic, and the Sun Bowl Parade all taking place in November.
Sun Bowl Parade
While the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game usually falls on the final day of the year, other events associated with the Sun Bowl span the annual calendar.
“We have about 18 different events attached to the Sun Bowl throughout the year, and most of them are open to the community and free of charge,” Olivas said. “This includes events like the Fan Fiesta, and the All-America Golf Classic, which are free to spectators.”
The Sun Bowl Parade continues to be one of most popular events for the public. Now in its 83rd year the parade has also taken a new title sponsor as the Oscar Leeser’s Hyundai of El Paso Sun Bowl Parade.
It started out as part of the Sun Bowl events closer to the game, but has been a Thanksgiving Day tradition since 1978.
“The parade used to coincide with the game, but the weather is more preferable in November for it,” Olivas said.
The parade route has also seen several changes, he added. “It used to wind through Downtown, then it moved from Copia to Mesa, but now moves from Ochoa to Mesa.” The current route is 2.7 miles.
Special Events Director Joe Daubach said the parade had some ups in downs in terms of participation. In the 1970s, he said, the parade was considered for national television. When the parade moved to its Thanksgiving Day date this idea was dropped, although the area parade is now aired regionally on KTSM television.
El Paso Downtown Lions Club originally organized the parade, and many local businesses were involved, but over the years, participation declined. Today, there are more non-profits that take part, and the parade has grown beyond its original size.
“When I started in here in 2002, it was a struggle to get eight floats in the parade,” Daubach said,” but now we get at least 20 floats and the quality has gotten better every year.
“We still have all the parade standards that go with it, such as floats, bands, equestrian groups, mariachis and folklorico and other groups that will fit within the two-hour television slot,” he said.
Daubach said elements like professional float building workshops, and a large building space for participants has helped maintain enthusiasm, but picking motivating themes and parade leaders is also part of the task. This year Daubach said they have picked a theme that hasn’t been tackled by anyone else, and keeps in line with the larger-than-life image of Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl title sponsor: “Bobbleheads on Parade.” Floats can be themed after nearly anything the entrants want, but all characters, and statues must be created with bobblehead characteristics.
Grand Marshal will be Austin High School graduate Ron Stallworth, author of the book “Black Klansman,” about his experience as a police officer during an investigation of the KKK in the 1970s. The book was the basis for the 2018 Academy Award-nominated film “BlacKkKlansman” directed by Spike Lee.
Sun Court and volunteers
One continual presence in the parade is the Sun Court, and the Sun Queen and her court has been part of the Sun Bowl as long as the game has been played. The court is made up of 10 to 14 “Princesses,” with one Queen and Lady-in Waiting chosen. All of them must be full time college students in good academic standing, and have a good knowledge and enthusiasm for both the Sun Bowl and El Paso.
“They are the ambassadors for the Sun Bowl,” Olivas said, as their presence at public events, both Sun Bowl affiliated events and other community happenings, is helping people stay enthusiastic about it.
Over the years, fewer bowl games have queens and courts, the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl being among the last remaining, but the Sun Bowl Court still remains an El Paso tradition.
Members of the court also help young girls in grades 8 through 10 learn self-esteem and etiquette as well as focus on academic and career success, at the Helen of Troy Sun Court Charm Camp in the spring. Young men can participate in the Boys to Men Camp in the fall.
The Grand Marshal and Sun Court may be some of the more recognizable faces in the parade, but its driving force is the volunteers, who work on floats and help with other elements of the parade all year long.
Daubach said they expect about 250,000 turning out to watch the parade this year.
“We have been very fortunate to have some wonderful volunteers,” he said. “The local LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church has provided us with around 600 volunteers each year that clean the parade route after the parade. By the time the parade reaches the end of the route, the areas near the start are already completely cleaned up.”
Daubach said seeing the parade grow as much as it has in recent years is important to the image of the entire Sun Bowl calendar, as events like the golf classic are held earlier in the year, the parade is when people really feel the holiday season, along with the Sun Bowl, is on its way.
“To see us go from 8 to 20 floats has really been a turning point for us,” he said.
He said he hopes to see this effort continue, especially since families are getting younger generations involved.
“We now have children and grandchildren of volunteers still interested in keeping this parade going for generations,” he said.
Sun Bowl Art Exhibit
One way the Sun Bowl exposes guests to the cultural beauty of the area is through the Sun Bowl Art Exhibit, that has been a part of Sun Bowl festivities since 1949. The exhibit was originally called the Sun Carnival Art Exhibit, and is the Southwest’s longest running art exhibit.
International Museum of Art Director Mitzi Quirarte was once a participating artist in the exhibit, and said it has achieved a status as one of the primary exhibits in the city.
“We’re the second largest show in El Paso, just behind Arts International,” she said. Both are juried to include some of the best work from regional artists, she added. This month’s show runs Nov. 14 to the beginning of January. Opening reception is 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14.
As the museum is located along the parade route, the museum often hosts a viewing party for honored guests to enjoy both the parade and exhibit.
Quirarte said the exhibit has been very consistent in the both the number and quality of artwork showcased throughout the years.
“We get around 150 paintings from local and regional artists,” she said. “We usually fill two galleries.”
Spreading the word
The Sun Bowl’s methods of promoting its events have taken full advantage of the ever-expanding communications technology. This has resulted in not only a relationship spanning more than a half-century with a major television network, but now social media users have even more ways to learn about the game’s happenings.
Media Relations Director Eddie Morelos said ways of promoting the game has been one of the most visible changes over the years, as in the past people awaited Sun Bowl announcements through local news sources such as newspapers, and later television. Now, the options have significantly increased.
“In the year, we have really increased our presence on social media,” Morelos said. “We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and on YouTube.”
One aspect of traditional media hasn’t changed much over the years. The Sun Bowl has had one of the longest relationships with a television network of any bowl game.
“This year will be CBS’s 52nd consecutive year to air the game,” Olivas said, “and we just signed a contract with them through 2025, so there will be at least 58 consecutive years now.”
Enter Tony the Tiger
The Sun Bowl was the first bowl game to take on a title sponsor, when it became the John Hancock Sun Bowl in 1986. Olivas said there was some criticism from other bowl games as making them a “sell-out,” then having a sponsor helped bring much needed improvements and attention to the game. This is especially true in a time when the number of bowl games was growing exponentially. At the time they named their first title sponsor, the Sun Bowl was facing having to end its lengthy run among college bowls, but sponsorship helped them not only stay alive, but continue to meet demands in the growing world of college championship and bowl games.
“When I started here in the 1980s there were 16 big bowl games, but more and more kept being created,” Olivas said. “In 2020, there will be 43 bowl games. You can’t keep a bowl game today without a title sponsor.”
When this year’s newest sponsor, Tony the Tiger, was announced, Olivas said there is reason the name is very specific, as opposed to being named for “Kellogg’s” or “Frosted Flakes,” the cereal and company for whom this mascot is associated.
“Kellogg’s has an initiative called ‘Mission Tiger,’ that helps middle schools,” Olivas explained. “It works to help recognize, support and maintain middle school athletic programs, and Tony the Tiger is the face of this.”
Moreles said the new sponsor will play a starring role. “We want to make it known we are the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl,” he said. “We have been doing this through developing posters and other media, as well as word of mouth.”
Olivas feels this year holds special meaning for the game, as it started with an intent to help raise money as a way to help area youth, and it now bears the name and the face of another program benefiting young people.
“We’ve come full circle this year,” Olivas said, “From Tiger Stadium to Tony the Tiger.”
What’s in a name?
The 2019 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl marks its first year under a new title sponsor, but the Sun Bowl has had six other title sponsors since 1986, as well as going without one in 1994 and 1995. Here’s what the game has been called:
• John Hancock Sun Bowl (1987-88)
• John Hancock Bowl (1989–93)
• Norwest Bank Sun Bowl (1996)
• Norwest Sun Bowl (1997–98)
• Wells Fargo Sun Bowl (1999–2003)
• Vitalis Sun Bowl (2004–05)
• Brut Sun Bowl (2006–09)
• Hyundai Sun Bowl (2010-18)
• Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (2019)
Sun Bowl Calendar
The Sun Bowl calendar began May 21 this year with the Helen of Troy Sun Court Charm Camp. Deadline for applications for the Sun Bowl Sun Court were due in June, and the coronation was Aug. 4 at the El Paso Country Club.
The Helen of Troy Sun Bowl From Boys to Men Forum was Sept. 19. The Peter Piper Pizza Sun Bowl Punt, Pass & Kick competition was held Oct. 9 at Sun Bowl Stadium.
The Sun Bowl Art Exhibit will be Nov. 14 through early January at the International Museum of Art.
The Sun Bowl Marathon All-America Golf Classic will be Nov. 24-26 at El Paso Country Club.
The 83rd annual Sun Bowl Parade is Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, beginning 10 a.m. at Montana and Ochoa.
Selection Sunday is 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino. Football teams for this year’s game will be announced at about 1:30.
YMCA Sun Bowl Basketball Skills Camp is Dec. 15 at UTEP’s Memorial Gym.
The 58th Annual WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Basketball Invitational is Dec. 16-17 at the Don Haskins Center, with the Kent State Golden Flashes, UC Irvine Anteaters, North Carolina A&T Aggies and the UTEP Miners.
Price’s Give ‘Em Five Sun Bowl Cheer Camp is 2:30-4:30 p.m. Dec. 30 at the El Paso Convention Center.
The 22nd Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Fan Fiesta presented by El Paso Live is 4-8 p.m. Dec. 30 at the El Paso Convention Center.
Sun Bowl Pregame Fan Party presented by Visit El Paso is 8:30-11:30 a.m. Dec. 31 at Glory Road and Sun Bowl Drive
The 86th Annual Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Game begins at noon Dec. 31 at Sun Bowl Stadium.
Getting in the game
Since 2011, the Sun Bowl has drawn from teams from the Pacific 12 Conference (PAC-12) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Teams are announced in early December, with picks of No. 3-7 for each conference. Here’s a quick run down of who’s who in each league, as well as what other bowls get to host these teams:
The PAC-12 are California Golden Bears, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, Stanford Cardinals, Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars in the North Division, and Arizona Wildcats, Arizona State Sun Devils, Colorado Buffaloes, Southern California Trojans, UCLA Bruins and Utah Utes in the Southern Division.
Bowls in the selection for these teams are the Rose Bowl (College Football Playoff) in Pasadena, Calif., Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif., Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, Nev. and Cheez-It Bowl in Phoenix, Ariz.
The ACC teams are Boston College Eagles, Clemson Tigers, Florida State Seminoles, Maryland Terrapins, North Carolina State Wolfpack and Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Atlantic Division; and Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Miami Hurricane, North Carolina Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies in the Coastal Division.
Bowls in the selection for these teams are the Citrus Bowl (College Football Playoff), and Camping World Bowl, both in Orlando, Fla., Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Bronx, N.Y., and Taxslayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
This year’s Selection Sunday Announcement is scheduled for Dec. 8 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.
Copyright 2019 by Cristo Rey Communications