Beautiful dresses, big hats and baseball. For more than 50 years, the Easter Monday baseball game between Wake Forest and NC State was an event unlike any other on the schools’ athletics schedules. Women of all ages turned out wearing eloquent dresses, fancy hats and beautiful corsages. People from all over the state — including legislators and governors — dressed in their Sunday best to attend the game and the annual NC State Pi Kappa Alpha (PKA) ball, which by the 1920s was attracting as many as 6,000 guests.
NC State plays Wake Forest this weekend in Winston-Salem, and we thought it would be a good time to look back at this chapter in NC State sports history. Robert “Hank” Utley ’50, a Concord native, played third base for NC State in the late 1940s and participated in four Easter Monday games after returning from military service. The author of two books on baseball, he has researched Easter Monday and talks here to NC State magazine intern Kelly McDonough.
How did the tradition begin?
It all started in 1899 when NC State played a military school from Mebane. The thing that made Easter Monday so big in North Carolina happened in 1906. A.B. Duke, [the son of one of Duke University’s founders], had guests down from New York and Yale University, and it was all over the social pages. They drove those dirty roads from Durham to Raleigh, in two cars loaded with [northerners], to see this Easter Monday ballgame in Raleigh.
The second thing that happened in 1906 was Pi Kappa Alpha started having its [ball] on Monday night. That Easter Monday dance was the biggest thing. It spirited on with A.B. Duke traveling over, and the Easter Monday game became a “go-see-and-be-seen” event.
The legislature, as early as 1900, adjourned to go to the ballgame. They took out special buggies, and their wives went with them. [The legislators’ wives] noticed that all these college girls from Meredith, St. Mary’s and Peace were attending the ballgame wearing their Easter dresses, hats and corsages. That influenced [them] to start doing the same thing.
It was 1906 that created the social significance of this game, and it continued to grow. And instead of having different teams come in, they ended up just playing Wake Forest. The two railroads brought in several thousand fans and made it that much bigger for the state.