The Acacia Fraternity Bike Team finished officially in 14th place, two laps off the winning Jetblach squad. (See full race results here.) This performance for almost an all-rookie team came off a Spring semester and a year of with many ups and downs.
The team never really let up from preparation for the 2020 race, which was cancelled after stay-at-home orders were issued during spring break and students did not return to campus. With a return to campus but under Covid-19 living restrictions for the fall of 2020, there was always the logistics of dealing with a 10-day quarantine for anyone involved with the team or the fraternity who tested positive. Students faced weekly testing protocols on campus with their hybrid learning routines of mostly online classes. Monroe County Emergency orders kept gathering in-person group strategy session to a minimum and safety procedures often changed with the severity of outbreaks in town and meant for a constant monitoring of any changes in the rules.
With Covid-19 the Academic Calendar was modified with the winter and spring break sessions being changed up to emphasize the least amount of changing living bubbles to help prevent virus transmission between campus and outside communities. This meant that the usual travel trips to warmer climates during the schedule breaks for better training conditions wasn’t really an option for anyone. The specialization efforts and ramp up in training volume would have to been done by the team in Bloomington.
We had a good group where academics were squared away and limited any need for appeals to be able to ride. The guys were good about covering responsibilities to attend Rookie Week activities, even though they had gone through them the year before. With Covid-19 protocols being the difference between the years, it’s the case that there was new information to know and deal with at the track.
Spring racing started with Series Events (Individual Time Trial, Team Pursuit, and Miss-n-out) and the team started off with excellent performances for the ITT on April 7th considering the limited track time due to poor weather conditions. Another change for the series was that this year Team Pursuit on April 9th would serve as the qualification event for race day and limit days where larger groups would be needed. IU Student Foundation did their best considering the group gathering situations to allow for time at the track by more regimented time schedules. Acacia rode a good time and qualified 8th.
April 15th was when the chapter was placed on Cease-and-Desist orders for investigations regarding parties in March from Monroe County limiting our ability to conduct team activities. No time at the track was allowed. During this time we missed Miss-n-out and other practice races.
Thankfully Coach Justin Fox never gave up hope that our team and their training time and effort would not go for nothing this year. Justin rallied the guys to email a message in support of our case for an exemption to participate while under investigation to the Dean of Students for our ability to participate on race day. We were granted the last two days of track time before the race to work out at the track. And finally, we were given word that we could race 28 hours before the start. It was this constant feeling of pressure in the back of our minds, especially as we expected some change of status each-and-every day.
As an effort to meet county health guidelines and limit large groups, the race was moved to three weeks after school was over, to Wednesday, May 26th. The riders who lived in dorms and off campus moved into the chapter house to help lessen the burden of living in Bloomington longer than needed for academics. Acacia was not unique in having to be creative with the rider’s living arrangements to get to race day. Some teams, where students had job or internships and were reduced in numbers were allowed to combine, rather than lose two teams, to help bolster the field size. Our team feels grateful for whatever was put together, for not having a race, for a second year, would have been a far worse scenario.
Race day started off a little cloudy in the morning for the Women’s Race. There was a couple of hours to try to transition the track for the men. Only teams, coaches, bike mechanics and essential staff were allowed at the track. No in-person spectators were at Bill Armstrong Stadium. There was live-stream coverage. The team wore light blue jerseys and were pitted on the south side of the track just past the start/finish line. Race strategy was to stay near the front but not do any work by pulling the pack around the track. With only one race veteran, the simple to follow plan, with less pressure was the way to go. After a fast start, our guys were often near the back of the reduced pack as the turns were in bad shape and trying to vie for position outside of the pole lane seemed dangerous. It was easier to follow in the best lane than power along side. Acacia did lead at the mid way point at lap 100. There were teams trying to break away and lap the field, but mishaps would prove to dash their leads. Around lap 166, in the chaos of teams chasing, we lost contact with what was left of the lead pack of 11. The game plan switched to battling with the teams that were close in the standings and fight towards a top-10 place. After the dust settled, we were listed as two laps behind the leaders in 14th place. That number doesn’t seem to do justice to what emotions and effort were put out on the track with three rookies and all of other drama.
That evening, many of the guys had their parents in Bloomington and we were all able to gather and celebrate at Nick’s English Hut.
With the momentum that was gained this year by the group riding, we, the Little 500 bike team alumni are hopeful that these riders will still participate together, even if under another name, rather than Acacia Fraternity. There have been other fraternity squads who’ve ridden as independent teams during off-campus periods. As the situation clarifies, we’ll know better the path for moving forward.
Phil "Bilko" Stephens is a member of the 1991 Little 500 Champion Acacia bike team and is currently Resident Advisor at the house. He works for IU's Hamilton Lugar School of Global & International Studies. He has remained active in track racing for many years. In 2021, Bilko assisted with bike team training and served as race mechanic. Contact Phil at: email@example.com.