The tradition of Sigma Chi’s Derby Days began in the spring of 1933 at the Alpha Beta chapter at the University of California-Berkeley, under the name “Channingway Derby.” Located on Channing Way, the Alpha Beta Sigma Chis sponsored an event composed of a series of humorous skits. In fact, one publication later cited the Channingway Derby as “California’s most amusing tradition.”
In the spring of 1935, after receiving reports of the Channingway Derby, Beta Sigma chapter at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville made plans for a similar event. But instead of presenting skits, the event was planned around an all-day track and field competition between the pledge classes of the nine sororities at Tennessee. More than 1,000 people were in attendance on the big day, November 1, 1935, to witness the first Derby involving campus sororities.
Coincidentally, on that day four Sigs from Delta chapter at the University of Georgia were visiting Knoxville and witnessed the festivities. The brothers took the idea back to their campus and named their production “Sigma Chi Derby,” which seems to have stuck.
During the 1960s, Derby began to take on the philanthropic approach for which it is now known on many campuses. After the Cleo Wallace Center became Sigma Chi’s Fraternitywide service project in 1967, many chapters began using Derby as a fundraising event for the Center. Although some amount of charitable work had been done through Derby and similar events prior to that time, the Wallace Center project gave a much-needed boost to the concept of doing something for a needy group outside of campus.
At the 1992 Leadership Training Workshop, the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) was introduced as Sigma Chi’s suggested beneficiary of proceeds from chapter community service projects. The CMN, an alliance of 165 hospitals and health care facilities across the United States and Canada, generates funds for the children its associated hospitals serve. Seventy percent of the Fraternity’s active chapters and many alumni chapters are located in the same city or within an hour’s drive of one or more Network hospitals.
The Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, Utah was added as an additional charity of choice for Sigma Chi’s undergraduate and alumni chapters in 2005. HCI was founded by Significant Sig and Constantine Sig Jon M. Huntsman, Sr. (Pennsylvania 1959) in 1993. The mission of the Huntsman Cancer Institute is to find the causes of cancer, to develop new and better treatments, and to prevent people from ever developing cancer. Through our undergraduate and alumni chapters, Sigma Chi is excited to be supporting HCI as it strives forward toward this ambitious goal.
What Derby Days Has Become
Today, Sigma Chi Derby events are held to assist a number of charitable causes, some allocating a percentage of the proceeds to a local philanthropy and part to the Children’s Miracle Network and Huntsman Cancer Institute. Since Sigma Chi began raising money for charitable causes, the Fraternity has raised well over $2 million for these groups. During the 1999- 2000 year, Sigma Chi chapters donated over $600,000 to CMN hospitals.
Derby Days at Iowa State
The first Sigma Chi Derby Days at Iowa State was held April 14, 1962.