The greatest tragedy in Baylor history took place on a lonely stretch of road between Waco and Austin, robbing the University of some of its best and brightest students.
On the cold morning of Jan. 22, 1927, members of Baylor's varsity basketball team boarded the University's 21-passenger bus. The Bears were headed to Austin for their first road game of the season against the Texas Longhorns.
The bus was full as it pulled out of Waco about 8:30 that morning. On board were members of the basketball team, a yell leader, an equipment manager and the managing editor of the Daily Lariat. Rounding out the list of 21 male passengers was Coach Ralph Wolf, who was in his first year as Baylor's varsity basketball coach, and Joe Potter, a freshman who was earning his way through Baylor driving the athletic bus.
The driving conditions were bad. A norther blowing through Texas had dropped temperatures near freezing, and sporadic rain splattered mud across the bus windshield, which Potter tried to wipe clean as best he could. Fog and mist made navigating the wet roads even more of a challenge.
When the bus reached Temple, everyone spotted a hitchhiker with a very familiar face--Ivey Foster Jr., a freshman Baylor athlete and assistant sports editor of the Lariat. He was trying to get a ride to Austin to see the game, so Potter pulled over and let Foster jump aboard.
When the now overcrowded Baylor bus reached Round Rock, some 22 miles from Austin, Potter was having trouble seeing through the dirty windshield, and buildings partially blocked the view of a railroad crossing ahead--a dangerous open grade crossing with no lights or bells.
Potter and his passengers weren't aware that the International-Great Northern Railroad's "Sunshine Special" passenger train was approaching the crossing at 60 miles an hour. The train blew its whistle, but for some reason no one on the bus heard it.
Seconds before impact, Potter saw the train coming and made a valiant attempt on the rain-slicked road to accelerate and beat the train through the intersection. The bus almost made it--but its rear section was hit by the train.
Some on the Baylor bus were killed instantly by the train, while others were thrown from the bus. One student--Weir Washam--had been able to escape, aided by a push from his good friend and teammate, Clyde "Abe" Kelley, who died in the crash.
When it was all over, nine on the bus were slightly injured, three were seriously injured, and 10 students--known soon after and forever more as The Immortal Ten--died either at the scene or in area hospitals. Driver Joe Potter and Coach Ralph Wolf survived. Hitchhiker Ivey Foster Jr. did not.
Townspeople, medical personnel and Baylor officials rushed to the site of the accident. Baylor's grieving President Samuel Palmer Brooks, told reporters, "The heart of Baylor University is torn to shreds at this moment."
In a later tribute, Baylor Athletic Director Morely Jennings said, "Those boys have honored Baylor University on the athletic field by their loyalty, love and true sportsmanship. So we will honor their memories. And may we so live that when our final summons comes we can look into their faces and say with them: We have done, in our small way, our bit for Baylor."
Indeed Baylor continues to remember and honor The Immortal Ten. Their story is told to succeeding generations of Baylor students--now, at the annual Mass Meeting held the Thursday night of Baylor's Homecoming Week.
The spirit of The Immortal Ten is memorialized in a monument installed in June 2007 near the Bill Daniel Student Center. The life-size monument by sculptor Bruce Greene features bronze depictions of the 10 men who lost their lives representing Baylor: Jack Castellaw, Sam Dillow, Merle Dudley, Ivey Foster Jr., Robert Hailey, Robert Hannah, James Clyde Kelley, Willis Edwin Murray, James S. Walker and William Penn Winchester.