In 1981, many years after the first Cotton Ball in 1933, another group of charitable minded Chattanoogans decided to create another less luxurious night of frolic on the same evening as the older event. It survived until 1989.
The Kudzu Ball as it had come to be known was the brainchild of several less prominent but equally philanthropic minded citizens such as Sam Darras, Bill Casteel, L.R. “Tex” Greenwood, Flop Fuller, and others wanting to remain anonymous. With a high powered organizing group known as the Long-Range-Down-The-Road-and-Out-of-Sight Planning Commission (see the hand of the Chattanooga Times longtime columnist) that strongly favored the consumption of alcoholic beverages at its planning sessions, the alternative to Zella Armstrong’s Cotton Ball was born. Some contend that the original idea came out of Nashville’s creation of the Swine Ball, a takeoff of the Music City’s elegant Swan ball.
As plans developed, the Town & Country parking lot on North Market Street was chosen as the palatial setting. Admission was open to the public for $5.00, blue grass music was played, a Kudzu King and Queen and Court were selected in a not so secret procedure, and a costume contest was held. Because of its quick and permanent growing ability the name Kudzu Ball was chosen in order to give the event lasting power (others claim that like the Swine Ball in Nashville it was created to spoof the Cotton Ball).
In lieu of fancy gowns and coat and tail tuxedos participants adorned their bodies with the obnoxious kudzu weed in many non-descriptive costumes. Tex Greenwood was one of several regular participants who appeared as Kudzu Willie. The 1988 event included a presidential debate between the weed attired Michael Dukudzu and George Bush.
The first Kudzu King was eccentric pizza dealer Sam Darras and the identity of the first Kudzu Queen has been lost to history. The last King was reported to be former television personality Jed Mescon.
While the creation of the slightly less formal Town & Country Shopping Center parking lot event may have shocked some of the more dedicated supporters of the older ball, the upstart newcomer event gained greater acceptance when it announced that proceeds of the weed ball would be donated to support the Chattanooga Birth Defects Center to the extent of $43,000 over the years.
In spite of the degree or lack of elegance between the two events, some Cotton Ball debutantes often made an appearance after the conclusion of their more formal event.
Through widely differing approaches both balls provided entertaining programs that demonstrated a common goal of providing philanthropy to the less fortunate in our community with different degrees of seriousness and frivolity towards a common purpose of eventually helping others.
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Jerry Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org