By: Jordan Siden, Bicentennial Intern, Class of 2017, History, Bloomington
Crisis: 1978 to 1987
The man in the photograph clutches the tricycle between his legs. His open mouth and eyebrows raised in concentration accentuate his round face.
Dressed in a polo shirt, short ’70s shorts, and a boyish baseball cap atop curly hair, his wiry legs extend as he stands to leap off the trike. With him in the parking lot is a woman, running along his side, her arms outstretched to receive it.
John Pericak, a coach for 1977 Mini 500 runners-up Nick’s Chicks, couldn’t find a new team to coach the next year. So he formed his own team with Ken Cotner, another man, and two women, Mary McCampbell and Debbie Latham. They called their team Half and Half.
Men had never entered the Mini 500 before, and the IDS ran the photograph alongside their story of the new kind of Mini 500 team. Pericak told the IDS that while some thought his team was harmless, others thought they shouldn’t be allowed to participate.
At qualifications, the IDS wrote the crowd’s reaction “was like the team’s name — half and half. Half mocking and half accepting the trike team made up of two men and two women.”
The appearance of Half and Half created a new dilemma over inclusion in the Mini 500. Though women had struggled and failed throughout the 1970s to qualify for the bicycle race, what would the inclusion of men bring to the Mini, a race that for its entirety served as women’s sole competitive option during the Little 500 weekend.
The theme of the 1978 Mini 500 was “Star Trikes,” and each team hung a banner in Assembly Hall. Half and Half’s read, “Where no man has gone before.”
Though Half and Half was quickly eliminated in an early heat, Pericak and Cotner reassembled the team for the following year. But McCampbell had graduated, and Latham moved to a dormitory and wasn’t eligible to race on an independent team. So the two men placed an ad in the paper for two women riders. They didn’t want to compete in the women’s race with an all-male team.
They insisted men could compete alongside women equally, and were written about sympathetically in the IDS as two competitors wanting only to join in on the fun.
“Pericak and Cotner said they wanted to continue their tradition of a two-women-two-men team because if the team was all-male, it would be as if they were competing against the women, not with them,” sports writer Karen Halsema wrote.
Half and Half hardly constituted a threat in taking the Mini away from women. Failing to reach a time in the top 10, the team was not even mentioned in the IDS’ Monday-morning recap of the 1979 race. But Half and Half’s good-natured run at the Mini would be the start of a steady incursion of men into the tricycle race.
At the 1982 Mini 500 qualifications, four men dressed in Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps were approached by an IU Police Department officer. They were told the stands they were sitting on were reserved for racers. That night, the men in Hawaiian shirts, Jerry’s Kids, came in 35th place to become the first all-male team to qualify for the Mini 500.
Although reaction among those in attendance varied, some told the IDS they saw their colorful costumes as a sign that the men weren’t taking the race seriously. “We weren’t trying to make fun of anything,” Tom Danielson of Jerry’s Kids insisted. “We were totally serious.”
“Bloomington may have its own ‘Battle of the Sexes’ Friday night at Assembly Hall,” read the IDS’ preview to the 1982 Mini 500. Though the team was received warmly at qualifications, Jerry’s Kids were booed by the audience during the pre-race parade.
The all-male team did not perform well that night, and was eliminated well out of reach of the final heat. But their foray into the Mini called the entire event into question. If the women’s race wasn’t only for women anymore, who was the Mini 500 really for?
By the late-1970s, many began openly criticize the Mini as an event that perpetuated sexist attitudes toward women. In 1979, when a bicycle team of four women and one man attempted to qualify for the Little 500, the riders interviewed for the IDS did not mince words when they shared their motivation for attempting to break into the Little 500.
“The whole trike thing is degrading — the way it got started — like children riding tricycles before they are big enough for the real thing,” rider Rhonda Pretlow said.
Laurie Calland, another rider, added, “Women [trikers] aren’t riding for themselves. It is kind of like entertainment before the real event — they’re like cheerleaders or something.”
One student called the Mini a “degrading, sexist and a heinous insult to women” in a letter to the IDS in 1979. In 1982, an editorial read that just allowing women to attempt to qualify for the men’s Little 500 isn’t enough. “Differences in body structure have put women in their places in the past — perched precariously on oversized trikes.”
“The message is clear,” a sports columnist for the IDS wrote. “The big boys ride the bicycles in the Little 500. The little girls get to ride the tricycles in the Mini 500.” He called for the “degrading, insulting and patronizing event” to be abolished.
Jerry’s Kids, re-named Phi Spika Trika, entered the race again in 1983, along with a co-ed team. “So now what are the feminists going to say?” Julie Bell wrote for the IDS Opinion Board. “Is the Mini 500 degrading to men participants too?”
If you didn’t like the Mini, Bell wrote, you didn’t have to participate in it. If women weren’t willing to either train hard and qualify for the Little 500, or petition for a bike race of their own, “there is one more option to protect women racers from humiliation. They should start a trike team of their own, practice hard and make sure men don’t start winning the Mini 500.”
In March 1984, questions over the sexist nature of the Mini 500 had come to the attention of the Bloomington Faculty Council, an administrative body made up mostly of IU professors. At a meeting, the Student Affairs Committee presented a report regarding their concerns with the Mini 500, which stated:
“It is the feeling of a number of people that the Trike race is the ‘powder puff’ version of the bicycle race. It reinforces the stereotype of women as infantile, limited in physical strength and athletic ability, less motivated than men competitively, and characteristically silly or superficial. There are other people, however, who see the race as an enjoyable, competitive event that allows women who are less serious athletes to participate in the weekend’s activities.”
The committee proposed a resolution: “BFC urges the Student Foundation to choose an alternative to the Mini 500 tricycle race which will provide more opportunities for nonsexist participation by all students.”
Although a minority opinion argued the faculty council had no right to interfere with the activities of a student group, many faculty council members present at the meeting lambasted the Mini 500 on the grounds of sexism.
One IU professor called the Mini a “parody event” which prolonged the outdated image of women as “unserious people.” Another mentioned his uneasy observation that he had never seen a female coach for a Mini 500 team, only a “patriarchal male guru out there directing traffic, surrounded by a harem of young women.”
The faculty council’s resolution passed 32 to 9 the following month. The message was clear: something had to change about the Mini.
Meanwhile, fears that men would soon capture the Mini grew to become an increasingly urgent concern. In 1984, Phi Spika Trika, racing for its third year in a row, captured the top speed in qualifications to become the first all-male team to qualify in the pole position.
At the race, the crowd was divided and demonstrations were ugly. The Herald-Telephone wrote that fans from the Phi Spika Trika’s residence hall “unfurled a banner that read, ‘Women belong in the kitchen not on trikes.’” The IDS reported the crowd booed louder each time the team made it to another round.
Racing a strong race, it looked that night like the all-male team was going to win. “Phi Spika Trika cruised easily through the preliminaries, outmuscling its opponents in each round,” the H-T reported.
Phi Spika Trika was disqualified for fouling in the final round, and the team took 3rd place. “I wish they wouldn’t make such a joke of it,” a rider said of the all-male team. “A lot of the girls take it very seriously.”
The next year a co-ed team, Who Knows, won the Mini.
The pressure to inaugurate a main event for women bicyclists continued. The IUSF added a women’s division to the Team Pursuit event in 1986, which 18 teams of women competed in. The following year, 32 women participated in the new “Miss-n-Out” sprint race. These demonstrations of women’s eagerness to race bicycles in the Little 500 were becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
At the 1986 Mini qualifications, 64 teams raced for 63 spots. Dejoya II T.L.W, a rookie team made up of men from the McNutt Quadrangle residence hall, decided to approach the first heat strategically, and raced slow to avoid fouling. But by the end of the night, the team, which practiced one and a half hours a day, six days a week, had finished the night in the pole position.
The winner of 1986 Mini 500 would be decided by strokes of misfortune. “Dejoya II’s times were dictated by its competitors during the semifinals and finals,” wrote the H-T. “Fouls enabled the team to win both races easily.”
The past several years of male intrusion into the Mini 500 had led to this moment. At the 1986 Mini 500, Dejoya II T.L.W. became the first all-male team to win the tricycle race.
A rider for the team, a freshman, told the IDS he didn’t think his team had an advantage because they were all men. He attributed his team’s win to dedication.
Though the crowd continued to boo even after they had won, the team “was appreciative of the equally hearty ovation it received from McNutt residents.” The co-ed team Who Knows took second.
“We had the best all-girls team,” Lee Kennedy of 3rd place Kappa Alpha Theta told the IDS, “so I guess that’s something.” Twenty-one men had competed in the Mini that night.
As soon as Half and Half entered the Mini 500, the inclusion of men meant the race could no longer serve exclusively as the women’s alternative the Little 500 bicycle race. But in 1986, before a single woman had gained her opportunity to race in the Little 500 atop a bicycle as an equal, now even the Mini had been taken from them.
The next year, a writer for the H-T called the Mini an “endangered species,” an event that to some, she wrote, was a “vestige of days gone by and should be eliminated for the sexist image of women relegated to riding tricycles.”
A week later, the Crone Basement-Freaks of Nature from McNutt Quad became the second all-male team in a row to win the Mini 500. The men waved to a large crowd of supporters in the stands, while many in the crowd booed them and each of the five all-male teams who competed.
“We went from not being able to ride those trikes at all to being pretty good at it,” sophomore Lee Denhart told the IDS.
For part three of this blog, please visit: http://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/04/17/the-mini-500-the-gendered-history-of-a-forgotten-tradition-part-3/
For part one of this blog, please visit: http://blogs.iu.edu/bicentennialblogs/2017/04/17/the-mini-500-the-gendered-history-of-a-forgotten-tradition-part-1/
 Mert Weinberg, “Two Mini-500 trikers first male competitors,” Indiana Daily Student, April 13, 1979.
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 Karen Halsema, “Half of the trike half remains,” Indiana Daily Student, April 4, 1979.
 Mark Ambrogi, “Kappa Delta, Delta Zeta and Nick’s Chicks favored, Indiana Daily Student, April 17, 1979.
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