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 in the form of the “Channingway Derby.” Located on Channing Way, the Berkeley Sigs sponsored an event composed of a series of humorous skits and performances. In the spring of 1935, after receiving reports of the Channingway Derby, Beta Sigma chapter members at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville made plans for a similar event. 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, Nov. 1, 1935, to witness the first Derby involving campus sororities. Also in attendance for the festivities that day were four Sigs from the Delta chapter at the University of Georgia. The brothers took the idea back to their campus and named their production “Sigma Chi Derby,” which seems to have stuck. During the 1960s, the 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 Fraternity-wide service project in 1967, many chapters began using the 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 group in need outside of campus.