It's hard to miss an athlete on campus. Armed with heavy duffle bags of gear and the latest Nike sneakers, it appears that Dartmouth varsity athletes have rightly squared themselves with popular media portrayals of the "college jock." Equally hard to miss are the throngs these athletes often form, whether they are eating in a dining hall or walking together to practice they represent a team in every sense of the word, and that includes their unique traditions.
Julian Danziger '15, a member of the lightweight rowing team, said that the process of complete assimilation into a sports team is just that a process. It involves many grueling hours spent at practice, but above all, creating and maintaining cohesion within a team requires traditions.
"[Traditions] allow members to feel that they are part of a bigger entity than just their current team," he said. "They connect former teammates to current ones and are a great way to fuel enthusiasm for our sport."
From team dinners to scrimmages to chants and songs, Dartmouth varsity teams incorporate a lifetime of bonding into their schedules each term.
Many athletes spoke of traditions that allowed each class to go head to head, essentially bringing them closer by first tearing them apart.
In some cases, teams organize similar events with other schools in the hopes of forging greater ties within the league. The sailing team, for instance, organizes an annual Halloween practice with the University of Vermont. And yes, costumes are a requirement.
Of course, not all inter-team traditions revolve around the sport itself. Charlotte Snow '15, a member of the sailing team, said that her team has a number of offseason traditions, namely its participation in the intramural hockey league.
"We register as the Frozen Seamen pun intended in the Green League so that everyone can play our coaches even come out for a few games," Snow said. "It's a fun, casual way to exercise as a team during our offseason outside of lift and cardio sessions."
In case you were wondering, the Frozen Seamen are the two-year reigning champions of the Green League.
To be sure, there are plenty of traditions maintained by each of the sports teams that are fun for the pure sake of, well, fun. Common to both the football and rowing teams, "Jokes" a formal rite of passage when the freshmen have to humor the upperclassmen are cherished by those athletes as an opportunity for freshmen to provide lighthearted entertainment during downtime or during more strenuous moments of conditioning and practice.
"I remember completely botching a joke last year and having a few people angrily losing focus and motivation," Danziger said, recalling a time when he was asked to provide entertainment as the team completed a particularly strenuous core exercise.
But just as many Dartmouth traditions have come under attack by the administration in recent years, so have those of the varsity sports.
"Some of the traditions that could be construed as hazing were dropped before I got here," Snow said. "It's a bummer, though, I wish I could have been a part of them. Hearing stories, sometimes you feel like you've missed out."
In defense of their cherished traditions, many students argued that the maintenance of these traditions does far more than provide a sense of camaraderie amongst the players. They agreed that it provides the athletes with an identity that transcends the current roster, tying the players to a much longer history of their team and, indeed, of Dartmouth.
Not surprisingly, singing Dartmouth-spirited tunes after crucial games is a standard ritual for many teams. Football player Steve Dazzo '15 mentioned his team's ritual of singing "As the Backs Go Tearing By," a Dartmouth fight song, in the locker room after victories.
The men's rugby team also believes in the importance of aligning its players with Dartmouth as a whole, according to Owen Scannell '13, a member of the team.
"We do a freshman fun run over Green Key weekend where a bunch of the seniors lead the freshmen on a tour of the historical parts of campus and explain the history of the College," Scannell said. "One senior in particular is expected to memorize and recite all the plaques from the Lone Pine to the Ledyard plaque."
Although Scannell and many other athletes were happy to boast of their cherished rituals, acquiring interviews wasn't easy. For many of these teams, secrecy is the key to the sacredness of their traditions. Athletes have been wired to protect what is rightfully theirs, justifiably reserving knowledge of special traditions for teammates past and present.
Yet even as outsiders, it is a notion that certainly resonates with us. Just ask anyone who has tried to explain the bonfire to his or her friends from home.
Danziger is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.