This year marks the 50th anniversary of the University of Tennessee’s most lopsided homecoming queen competition, a contest that saw the winning candidate garner more than 2,500 votes while the closest runner-up barely had 300.
But that 1970 queen was not crowned, did not appear in a homecoming parade – and was forced to hide from several of the other candidates and their supporters. And the results led to the university doing away with the competition for several years. The “queen” was a male who was elected – all his votes were write-ins – with the campaign slogan “I have something none of the other candidates have.”
Vince Staten was a graduate student in the newly established College of Communications and a humor columnist for the student newspaper, The Daily Beacon.
Staten, whose official photo for the contest featured a bag over his head, looks back on the contest and its results with amusement. “The idea was an outgrowth of my establishment of the Apathy Party for campus elections,” he says. “I contended that since few students voted, that meant the majority supported me and the Apathy Party.
“The campaign started when I walked into the Beacon office the day after the paper had carried a front-page story about homecoming. As I passed the news editor, David Williams, I told him that I was denying that I was running for homecoming queen. So, the next day the Beacon ran a story to that effect. And the follow-up stories began. Jimmie Baxter, previous president of the Student Government Association, formed the Former SGA Presidents for Staten Committee. Tom Jester, another grad student, named himself the campaign’s Minister of the Continuum.”
Staten announced that if he was elected all his supporters could gather on the football field at half-time – wearing bags over their heads. But it wasn’t to be, even after his landslide win. There was an emergency meeting of the Student Tribunal and it was announced that Staten was ineligible because he was a grad student. “Even then, they knew they could not play the gender card,” Staten says.
The university administration realized that maybe student interest did not warrant the resources spent on the contest. It was 1982 before the contest was held again, this time with the winner crowned Miss Homecoming.
One royal experience was enough for Staten, who has avoided these kinds of contests since. “Though my friends encouraged me to continue wearing a bag over my head,” he says, “I decided that satire is generally not understood in the fraternity and sorority world. Besides, writing is best done in a quiet place.”
Staten has had continued success as a wordsmith. Describing himself as an “investigative humorist,” he has 15 books to his credit, most published by Simon & Schuster, and at least one of them translated into Japanese. He has appeared on the Today Show twice, on David Letterman, on National Public Radio, Dateline NBC (“before you had to be a murderer to be a subject”) and countless other media outlets.
As to his 1970 notoriety, he points out that the 10 female candidates should thank him: “After the votes were tallied, each of them could say ‘I would have won if it hadn’t of been for that S.O.B. Staten.’”
Chris Wohlwend has practiced the writing trade for a half-century.