By Sydney Jones/El Inde
Crowded around the starting line in front of the Student Union Memorial Center on the University of Arizona campus, dozens of students are anxiously awaiting the annual Greek pajama race to start. The contest runs from Old Main, the busiest place on campus, to the finish line on Highland Avenue.
Crouched down at their marks, 20 bulked-up fraternity men pumped full of adrenaline feel their hearts thump loudly in their chests as they wait to set off in speed.
“You usually started out with somebody who was big and strong and wouldn’t get bumped around a lot,” Jim Sakrison said.
Sakrison wasn’t the first pick to go first by a long shot. Lean and tall, Sakrison was far too susceptible to being knocked around with his narrow frame and glasses.
The year is 1960, and freshman James “Jim” Sakrison is nervous to be the last line of defense in the relay race.
Dressed in his best (and cleanest) blue-and-white checkered pajamas and white sneakers, Sakrison was determined to make Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) proud by finishing off the race with a bang.
The pajama race was held every year at the University of Arizona to raise money for a select philanthropy. Each sorority would pick a fraternity to represent them and raise money, and the amusing pajamas helped bring others out to support as well as poke fun.
The last leg of the race took place on Highland Avenue, and every fraternity man participating sprinted at their fastest speeds to win the coveted trophy for the attention from the sorority women.
“I was on the track team as a freshman, as a hurdler,” Sakrison, now 78, said. “That was one of the reasons I guess I was last, when you get to the end you want your fastest people at the end.”
The Fiji fraternity ended up winning first place in the 1960 pajama race against the other fraternities, and Sakrison gained a memory that would last a lifetime. The exciting moments and friends he made during the four years spent at the university would become one of the best parts of his life.
“The relationships I made with members of our fraternity have been long-lasting and very lucrative,” Sakrison said. “If you need something done in a particular state or city and you’ve got a fraternity brother there, you call them. We’ve been very, very blessed.”
The tradition of the pajama race wouldn’t disappear 30 years later, but new ones were made to accommodate a fresh generation of Wildcats.
Brent Powers graduated in December 1994 after coming to the university from Cheyanne, Wyoming.
Seeking warm weather and higher education, Powers soon found solace and a home in the brotherhood of Sigma Chi.
“The Sigma Chi experience was awesome,” Powers said. “Great friends just bonding around, [it was a] carefree time in life to some degree but with college responsibility.”
One of the most noteworthy events he remembers alongside his fraternity brothers was the time when Arizona went to the final four basketball game against Arkansas in the spring of 1994.
Brent Powers and a few of his friends camped out in front of McKale Memorial Center all night to get tickets before flying out to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the game.
“That was a blast,” Powers said. “We were in a lottery and we had a chance to buy two tickets.”
Since demand for tickets to the game was so high, the university had to create a lottery system to allow students the chance to attend.
Powers and seven of his friends ended up going to the basketball game, and Arizona lost by 9 points. However, that wouldn’t be his most memorable event.
Every year, Sigma Chi hosted their Windjammer party either at their house or at an off-campus location. Under the direction of Brent Powers and others, the 1993 annual party was held at the Sigma Chi house on Greek Row.
Having a good time with “cool drinks” clearly wasn’t the only item on the gentlemen’s agendas, and Brent Powers laughs when he looks back at the moment in time captured in the yearbook.
The pool party was a blast, entertaining crowds of young women and Sigma Chi gentlemen with loud music and “fan-favorite” refreshments such as warm kegs of beer.
When the photo for the yearbook was taken, Powers was a senior. It would be his last year of parties at the fraternity house, an experience that brought him closer to the “brothers” around him.
While attending and cleaning up parties certainly kept the fraternity close, growing up and learning together in a mature environment solidified the bond.
“Eric Winters is one of my best friends,” Powers said. “We have stayed in close touch.”
Brent Powers would later win Homecoming King his senior year, capping off the end of his college experience. But Powers is particularly proud about the friends he made along the way.
Marc Acuña, the University of Arizona senior director of student and alumni engagement, has been continuing the Wildcat experience for alumni for the past 10 years. As a 2005 graduate of the university, Acuña understands the draw of coming back to the school after having had an amazing time.
One of Acuña’s favorite jobs in his role of alumni engagement is planning homecoming every fall. He loves seeing University of Arizona alumni from all years celebrating and connecting with their past.
“It’s that feeling when you walk on campus, it’s like a vibration, like an energy that you don’t get anywhere else,” Acuña said. “In my job, I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel all over the country and go to different colleges and universities. And it’s just not the same as it is when you’re on this campus and walking the Mall and seeing the students, professors and administration team. I think I’ve never left Tucson because I love that so much.”
When planning events and reunions, there’s nothing that Acuña enjoys more than talking to fellow alumni.
“It’s a great way to see their faces light up when they talk about the memories,” Acuña said. “I don’t think there’s anything more that our alumni love to do than share their stories about their experiences on campus.”
In Powers’s case, the college experience was about the all-nighters pulled in the library studying for an accounting exam. It was planning for fraternity parties to ensure the proper amount of skullduggery.
Currently, Sakrison is a practicing attorney at the Slutes, Sakrison & Rogers firm in Tucson. He has worked in corporate and real estate law to businesses and individuals for decades.
Powers has been the CEO and president of Powers Products Co. in Denver, Colorado, for over 25 years, working as a specialty contractor and distributor of architectural products. He lives with his wife Andrea and his three teenagers Presley, Rex and Karson.
When alumni like Powers and Sakrison look back at their time at the University of Arizona, they don’t first remember pledging their fraternity. They don’t even acknowledge the fun parties or difficult classes. The most important thing, they say, are the friends that made an impact on their lives.
As he told me to live it up my senior year, Powers left me with one final request:
“Go to Dirtbag’s and get a burger for me…and a beer.”