The tradition of Sigma Chi’s Derby Days began in the spring of 1933 at the Alpha Beta chapter at the University of California-Berkeley, under the name “Channingway Derby.” Located on Channing Way, the Alpha Beta Sigma Chis sponsored an event composed of a series of humorous skits. In fact, one publication later cited the Channingway Derby as “California’s most amusing tradition.”
In the spring of 1935, after receiving reports of the Channingway Derby, Beta Sigma chapter at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville made plans for a similar event. But instead of presenting skits, the event was planned around an all-day track and field competition between the pledge classes of the nine sororities at Tennessee. More than 1,000 people were in attendance on the big day, November 1, 1935, to witness the first Derby involving campus sororities. Coincidentally, on that day four Sigs from Delta chapter at the University of Georgia were visiting Knoxville and witnessed the festivities. The brothers took the idea back to their campus and named their production “Sigma Chi Derby,” which seems to have stuck.
During the 1960s, Derby began to take on the philanthropic approach for which it is now known on many campuses. After the Cleo Wallace Center became Sigma Chi’s Fraternitywide service project in 1967, many chapters began using Derby as a fundraising event for the Center. Although some amount of charitable work had been done through Derby and similar events prior to that time, the Wallace Center project gave a much-needed boost to the concept of doing something for a needy group outside of campus.
Today, Derby Days, the primary philanthropy of Sigma Chi chapters across the continent, serves the purpose of fighting to help find a cure for cancer. For over ten years, the Kappa Omicron chapter of Sigma Chi at Pepperdine University has been dedicating the Derby Days philanthropy to the City of Hope comprehensive cancer center in Duarte, California. Our work with City of Hope stems from several brothers being personally affected by cancer and having family members treated there. Since then, with the help of many sororities the Sigma Chi chapter has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the City of Hope.