Ball State Homecoming organizers reflect on the history of Bed Race

Every year, the creaky wheels of six beds roll out the storage door of the former Sutton Elementary School, and each plastic cover is removed, kicking off the Bed Race tradition. 

This year, Ball State will celebrate the 40th anniversary of this four-decade-old tradition, originally started in 1980. 

Susan Taylor, director of alumni engagement, collegiate and affinity groups and a member of the first Bed Race committee, said the idea for the race was inspired by a similar tradition in the Fort Wayne Three Rivers Festival. 

“I cannot recall whether [Fort Wayne] actually had a Bed Race or whether we modified the raft race and turned it into a Bed Race,” Taylor said in an email. “I do know that we as a group had to jump through several hoops to get it approved, close the streets, borrow beds from the University, etc.”

Although the creation of the race took a lot of work, she said working with a determined team is what helped get it started.

“The Homecoming Steering Committee that year included several very energetic and creative students who wanted to include a new event for the student body,” Taylor said.

She said the weather for the event was great, and it was successful because “everyone seems to enjoy competitive events.”

Today, Bed Race teams are still composed the same as they were in the beginning — each team is composed of five people: four to push the bed and one to ride it to the finish line, according to Ball State’s website.

“There were some wobbly beds back then,” Taylor said, “Everyone was required to have a theme, costumes and décor, too.”

Students participating in the Bed Race still dress up in costumes each year and are welcome to participate in a costume contest, which Michelle Johnson, senior director of alumni engagement, Homecoming, athletics and reunions, said makes the event more exciting.

“I would say picking out a costume, stretching and pumping themselves up is a good way to prepare [for the Bed Race],” Johnson said via email.

Johnson also said there are other institutions interested in making the Bed Race a tradition of their own. 

“We receive many inquiries from other institutions and non-profit organizations each year asking how they can start their own Bed Race,” Johnson said. “It is a spirited and exciting event that has been popular at Ball State and has been well known nationally for many years.”

Erika Leak, co-chair of special events, said the race is an environment full of inclusivity and fun.

“The Bed Race shows tradition and inclusion within campus,” Leak said via email. “I haven’t seen an event like Bed Race at any other university. This distinguishes Ball State as being a close-knit family and alumni association.”

Contact Taylor Smith with comments at or on Twitter @taynsmithh.


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