The Irish are Coming! 15 Years ago at TKE Beta-Pi

Then-Chapter Adviser Michael Smith with his Irish Flag Signed by all the Team Members who lived in the TKE House

Michael, me boy, how’d you like to come to the closing ceremonies with us?

Fifteen years ago, right about this time of the year, a group of seven initiates and one girlfriend worked night and day for 2 weeks to finish preparing the TKE House for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta.  This was our modern-day “magnificent seven” and their work capped off one of the most heroic periods in our chapter’s history.

Atlanta’s application for the games including using the Georgia Tech campus for the Olympic village.  The problem was, even with the construction of new west campus dormitories at Tech and the Georgia State (sic) University dorms in Techwood, there would not be enough bedspace for all the athletes.  So the ACOG (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games) approached the Greek community with an offer of $1,400/bed for the use of Greek housing during the games.  Since campus would be closed anyway, it was our only prospect for any rent revenue during the games.  The catch was that the houses had to meet certain criteria and the bedrooms had to be cleared of all built in lofts so that an Olympic standard suite of furniture (bed, wardrobe, and short chest-of-drawers) could be moved in.

Sensing an opportunity to have someone else pay for some long-needed renovations to the dormitory, TKE quickly agreed to lease our house to the ACOG.  In early 1995, we were the first Greek organization at Georgia Tech to sign an agreement.  What followed was a solid year of demolition and reconstruction in which every piece of sheetrock in the house was replaced, every bathroom rebuilt, every loft torn out, new carpet laid in every room, every outlet was repaired, and every room was wired for telephone, cable TV and Internet.  All this was done corner by corner while the members lived in the House. No generation of TKEs before or since, dealt with such disruptions to their everyday lives or accomplished so much in so little time.

It turned out that the Irish, who field a large team, had had their eyes on the TKE house ever since construction had begun on the new social quarters in 1993.   They sought a solution to the problems with transportation and communication they had experience in Barcelona in 1992, where the team dormitory, office and medical spaces had been located in various places in the city.  In the TKE House, they saw an opportunity to bring all these things together under one roof.

While the games were going on, then-Chapter Adviser Michael Smith (#783) used his village pass to visit the Teke House almost every day and met most of the athletes who lived there.  He brought an Irish flag with him and asked each athlete to sign it.   On the day of the closing ceremony, he showed up to get the last few signatures when the Chef de Mission (on the right in the photograph) asked him whether he’d like to go to the closing ceremonies with the Irish Team.  “Of course I jumped on that and got on the bus with the team,” Smith later wrote, “but I was disappointed that I had picked that day, of all days, to not bring my camera with me into the village.  It didn’t matter, though, since they gave disposable cameras to everyone as we entered the stadium.  What was funny later was that, when athletes from different countries took to running around on the field with their national flags, the Irish realized that none of them had brought one of their own.   I, the lone American, was the only person sitting with the team who had an Irish flag.  So they borrowed mine and ran around with that one for awhile.  I kept a pretty close eye on it since I really wanted it back after that.”

Smith plans to put the flag on permanent display in the Chapter House once a suitable way of securing it is created.

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