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Midvale Journal

About 50 years of ‘Burning of the H’ homecoming tradition keeps burning

Sep 04, 2022 09:49AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While it graced the cover of the 2014 Hillcrest High yearbook, the 1983 yearbook memorialized the practice.

“The greatest tradition of all, the Burning of the H was an exhilarating occasion that every Husky will remember.”

The ritual, which Hillcrest alumni best recollect beginning in the 1970s happens the night before the homecoming football game. Throughout the tradition’s approximate 50 years, it has had different looks—including socially distancing students throughout the whole stadium during the COVID-19 pandemic—but its intent has remained the same: to boost school spirit.

“Back then, schools wanted to get students involved and it was part of the pep rally to jazz people up for homecoming,” said Hillcrest High Alumni Association president Craig Conder, who graduated in 1978. “What better way to jazz a bunch of high school students up then by burning something?—especially for the guys.”

He remembers during his high school days a wooden structure H was set on fire.

“Back in the day, when safety wasn't really a thing, they built a wooden H out on the 50-yard line. Other years, it was in the visitor’s side of the bleachers and in later years, after artificial turf, lit at the end of the stadium on the pavement or parking lot,” Conder said, adding that traditionally fireworks, a parade, and pep rally have been part of the night-before homecoming celebration. “Safety, the environment, it wasn’t a thing back then. I mean we put toxic smoke into the air because I’m sure we put gasoline, kerosene or some fluid on the burning H to get it blazing. These days, people are a lot more worried about safety and the environment. So large fires with lots of teenagers around might not be the thing school districts are willing to do these days.”

In fact, it was in 1996 when the longstanding tradition was doused as students—both at the high school and college levels—learned the state’s open burning law didn’t allow bonfires. Even so, students at Juab High continued the tradition unaffiliated with the school until 2009 when a handful of students got severely burned.

Brenda McCann graduated from Hillcrest in 1981 and worked at the school for about 20 years before becoming Union Middle’s principal this year. During her tenure, Burning of the H always was a tradition.

“I think it changed from a bonfire as a celebration to where they started burning wood in the shape of an H,” she said. “In the ’80s, they did a fire in the middle of the field when it was grass, but we went to the fireworks when they put the turf field in 10-12 years ago. We always worry about safety. You have to have the fire marshal for Midvale involved and they'll come, and they'll stage it so it's in a protective area.”

This year, Hillcrest is using Vortex Fireworks Artists, who will use lance fireworks or miniature green flares or that are mounted on wooden frames for the Burning of the H.

“The fire is pyrotechnics, actually a bunch of little fireworks or road flares,” said Vortex’s Chuck Johnson, who said they’ll also shoot up traditional fireworks on the Sept. 22 celebration.

He said that both Unified Fire Department as well as their own fire crew will be on hand to ensure the safety of the fireworks display.

In recent years, the festivities have included honoring representatives from all the different clubs, sports and organizations on the Thursday before Friday’s game when the crowning of the homecoming court takes place.

Also, the bringing together of the current student body president with the student body president from 50 years ago, which has been fun addition, Conder said.

The actual Burning of the H tradition, which has included a script read by student body officers, teachers and administrators outlining the legacy of Hillcrest since opening its doors in 1962, has included several different looks, including an H of candles in 1981, a foil-wrapped H in 1999 and the Lifting of the H in 1978.

Lars Boggess, class of 1978 vice president, said during pride week, which lead up to homecoming, they hired Windy, a clown who was a balloon artist, who created a wire-framed H that was at least 15 feet tall. Then, they filled the interior with helium balloons for the Lifting of the H.

“It was a lot of work, and the clown wasn't very happy because we only gave him 200 bucks or something minimal,” Boggess said. “He was a grumpy clown.”

Conder recalled a bunch of helium balloons on strings were placed on top of the H.

“The clown dramatically let it go and it floated off. It was pretty cool,” he said.

Former Principal Charisse Hilton, who was at the school from 1993 to 1999, said that on Hillcrest High’s Alumni Association Facebook page that the H was in “a large metal frame. Student government would weave old upholstery throughout and then we wrapped it in muslin. We soaked it in kerosene and set it in the middle of the field.”

According to the alumni page, Linda White, who attended the school from 1968-71, said the tradition may have started with pranks. She remembered Jordan High burning a H in Hillcrest’s field in 1969 after the Huskies burned a H in their field for homecoming.

Tracy Olson posted: “Legend (probably an urban legend) has it that the Brighton/Hillcrest rivalry had taken an ugly turn where Brighton killed a husky and ran it up the Hillcrest flagpole. In retaliation, Hillcrest burnt a giant ‘H’ on Brighton’s field.”

Alumni Phil Montoya recalls it was fall 1975 when a bunch of Huskies went to Brighton High and burned a H in their grass football field.

“They went and lit it up; I believe with gasoline,” he said. “They just burned a H and in Brighton’s field. It was a long time ago and kids do stupid things when they’re young. But it was a rivalry and a heated one back in those days.”

Jerry Christiensen said, “True story. We turned it into a ‘B.’”

However, Hilton, who became a Brighton administrator after leaving Hillcrest, said those scars were still there.

“I was asked to check out an unusual burn mark on the football field,” she said. “After staring at it a few minutes, I realized it was the pattern of the ‘H.’”