Once Upon a Time...

Then & Now - Once Upon a Time - Spring 2014

The swaggering dudes in this 1908 photograph are the victorious freshman
class of 1912, which consisted of 68 young men (five are missing from the photo,
possibly unable to stand upright). These freshies had just quashed the considerably
smaller class of 1911 sophs (only 39) in a fierce contest known as cane rush.

Well into the 20th century, vigorous rivalry between the freshmen and the sophomores was part of the Denison culture, and every October the superiority of one class over the other was tested and proven during an annual release of energy known as “Scrap Day.” That’s “scrap” as in “tussle.”

Cane rush, flag rush, and pole rush were the most common scraps, and all three involved one class rushing at the other on the playing field, tackling and even tying up the opposing team members with rope and dragging them off the field. In cane rush, the stick or “cane” was the object of the battle—to possess it and to move it as deeply as possible into the opponents’ territory. The cane can be seen being held by the fellow at the base of the “1,” probably freshman class president Robert B. Whyte.

The Denisonian of the time described the event in great detail. “Slugging and kicking” were against the rules, but college administrators were clear that “Wholesome class rivalry over this beautiful Denison tradition is a thing to be commended.” This particular brawl lasted all of 15 minutes, after which “the majority of both classes was ready to quit.”

It was tradition that the young ladies of the two classes would arrive on horse-drawn hay wagons decorated in class colors, singing and cheering throughout the scrap. At the end, the winners were served cups of hot coffee by the girls, and after this 1908 scrap, it was reported that they made room on their wagon for an injured sophomore to be carried back to campus from Beaver Field.

Published March 2014