Poinsettia Ball Was Knight to Remember

Saturday's Poinsettia Ball, the annual dress-up rehearsal for the Holiday Bowl, literally set the stage for a joust between LaVell Edwards and Hayden Fry--although the head football coaches for Brigham Young University and the University of Iowa, respectively, chose instead to simply tip a cup of good cheer in one another's direction, and then sit back to enjoy the show.

Unusual in its role as a bridge between the social world and the locker room, the Poinsettia Ball has not typically ranked among the most glamorous of the year's fund-raisers, but this time around an effort was made to take it to the top.

Dubbed "A Fantasy Knight," the theme borrowed heavily from the Middle Ages and effectively disguised the San Diego Marriott's Marina Ballroom as a particularly soigne medieval banquet hall. About 430 guests came together to hear Paige Adams, the reigning Miss America, sing the national anthem, and to catch a bit of the fever then building between the BYU Cougars and the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Edwards and Fry, who between them have appeared at nearly every Holiday Bowl and Poinsettia Ball, although this was a first occasion for them to meet in San Diego as opponents, were joined by other names from the Western Athletic Conference and the Big 10, including WAC commissioner Joe Kearney and Big 10 assistant commissioner Charles Waddell. University presidents Rex Lee from Brigham Young and Hunter Rawlings III from Iowa also attended, as did other figures from major football schools.

Edwards, as a longtime participant in bowl and ball, kept a fairly low profile, while Fry arrived ready for a big night out. Sporting a Western-cut dinner jacket and a Wyatt Earp-style black tie--the kind with ribbons that dangle well below the bow--Fry paused on entering the reception area for a keepsake photo taken in the company of the evening's honored but utterly mute guest, the America's Cup. Like many others who ascended the stage draped in cloth-of-gold, Fry seated himself in a King Arthur-style throne and accepted the proffered crown and scepter before allowing the photographer to snap the shot.

The foyer decor took guests furthest in the direction of the Middle Ages and seemed a happy synthesis of the mythical Camelot and the Excalibur hotel in Las Vegas. Battlements and pennoncels rose as high as possible over the guests' heads--which in truth wasn't all that high, given the low ceiling--and set the stage for medieval make-believe. Nearer the ballroom, phalanxes of chubby, perfect Christmas trees, their branches festooned with large bouquets of crimson poinsettia blossoms, set the holiday tone traditional at the Poinsettia Ball and drew it back to its early roots, when hundreds and hundreds of the flowering Christmas plants always composed the event's main motif.

Chairman Joe Craver's committee worked its most imaginative effects in the ballroom, which was decorated beyond the usual meaning of the term.

Using white as the sole shade, Craver's crew swathed the chairs in white coverlets, hung pleated white draperies to cover every inch of wall space, draped the tables in ivory cloths and centered them with white poinsettias donated, as always, by poinsettia potentate Paul Ecke. To continue the "Fantasy Knight" theme, the group also erected castle-like walls and towers around the walls; these, again, were painted white, a color castles probably have used only in story books.

The one item that didn't quite jibe with the scene was the large cutout of Elvis Presley that the Mar Dels brought along as both stage decoration and prop; it was moved to the front of the stage every time the popular '50s-style group offered a Presley song. By design, the entertainment ran from the moment guests entered the room until the midnight curfew, pausing only for brief remarks by Holiday Bowl president Morris Sievert.

"When people leave, we want them to feel that they've really been entertained," said Craver, who said the focus of 12 months of party planning had been to create a truly elegant event. "The net result is that we'll be able to contribute significantly to the Holiday Bowl." Craver anticipated net proceeds in the range of $20,000. Until recent years, the ball benefited several charities; earnings now are used to increase the payouts to the teams that square off in the game. This year, each team will receive about $1.3 million.

The elegance of the decor was accompanied by a lavish menu that opened with lobster bisque baked under pastry, a pairing of prawns and beef filet and a dessert of Italian tiramisu decorated with gilded chocolate swords. Combined with the nonstop music, the intent seemed very much to entice guests to return in 1992.

The guest list included Holiday Bowl chairman Robert Payne and his wife, Patti; San Diego State University President Tom Day and his wife, Ann; Richard and Gay Howard; the Stephen Horrells; the Richard Circuits; Vince and Marilyn Benstead; Vinnie and Jeanne Vinson; James and Jerrie Schmidt; Ben and Nikki Clay; Bruce Walton, and Jean and Jack Morse.

Others were Jim and Jeri West, Noel and Joan Mickelson, Ray and Sue Blair, Jim and Darlene Kuhn, Bill and Kay Rippee, Harry and Carol Shrader, Herb and Jane Stoecklein, Ross and Betty Tharp, Joan Gregg Palmer, Dick and Vangie Burt, Sig and Elena Mickelson, Frank and Judy Laughton, Bill and Barbara McColl and Frank and Lynn Silva.

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