Having written and compiled eight books on the Turkey Day Game and interviewed dozens of those involved with it as early as the 1930s, I found it of interest to detect a new emerging story about the cancelling of the Friendship Dance in favor of separate homecoming dances. The truth of it seemed preposterous to me.
I originally thought that it was, at best, a fleeting issue and, at worst, the deliberate sensationalism of an issue that was pervading Kirkwood culture. However, having now read the same sentiments at Webster, I wonder now how real this issue is.
For those who do not know, the man who invented the Friendship Dance in 1939 is named Bud Leonard, and he still lives today.
Bud was a Webster student who was forced to transfer to Kirkwood after his sophomore year because his parents moved from Webster to Kirkwood. In 1940, after Bud invented the trading of the Old Brown Jug, he handed it to Webster team captain – and his friend – Al Gruer at the second Friendship Dance. Al also lives today. Both Bud and Al graduated in 1941, and they were both team captains in 1940. Both Bud and Al went into the Air Corps and World War II after graduation. Bud was a bombardier, and Al was a pilot. Al’s plane was named for his old Webster High School sweetheart – “Toofie’s Taxi.”
Prior to 1939, Webster students did have their own dance, and Kirkwood started to have some too. However, instead of simple dances and football games, the activities were frequently heralded by huge gang fights held at Westborough Country Club. In 1938, students went to the golf course armed with weapons, and the police departments of Kirkwood, Webster and Glendale were called to the scene to deal with the situation. Again, this was not an isolated circumstance – it was one of many occurrences.
I am sure some of you are thinking, “Well, that was then, and this is now.” However, in 2008, Webster students did the simple act of donning their jerseys and went to a Kirkwood game to scout the competition. Kirkwood students could not restrain taunting the players, and the players could not restrain responding. The incident ended badly with both Webster and Kirkwood students being suspended from school – all of this despite the great efforts of the administrations for decades consciously working to keep the rivalry friendly.
“Homecoming” is about the alumni, not the students. It is when the alumni return home to live vicariously through those still in school. Students have several dances throughout the school year that involve only their own student body. You will soon learn when you leave school that first, a homecoming dance at other schools is mostly no different than any other school dance that you have attended and second, the Friendship Dance and the Turkey Day Game are unique. Their uniqueness is part of what will make you special out in the world. Unlike the Turkey Day Game, the Friendship Dance has been held continuously from its inception – now for 73 years.
What would you say to Bud and Al when they return home about cancelling the dance? I know they would have a lot to say to you. Unfortunately, they are but the few that are left that can testify as to how bad things can get when students lack the maturity to stand in a room with their adversaries and socialize. In Bud’s and Al’s day, students were mandated to dance with persons from the opposing school. Enjoy the Friendship Dance – you have others. It is much better than the alternative.
Shawn Buchanan Greene
Webster Alumnus 1987