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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

What's The Big Deal About Rushing the Field?

It is easy for most of us -- even those whose idea of a "huddle" is an early morning conversation at the water cooler -- to imagine what a thrill it must be to dash across an open football field, to hear a crowd roar its approval, to sense the approach of the goal line. However Dartmouth may be the only college in the country where one need not be a member of the football team to aspire to such an experience.

Beginning in the early seventies, freshmen developed the tradition of running onto the field during half-time at the Homecoming game and forming their class numerals at midfield. But by 1979 the practice had deteriorated into a ragged dash across the field and a stampede into the opposing stands. Reports began to circulate around the Ivy League about children trampled underfoot, elderly women knocked over, and disabled spectators toppled out of their wheelchairs. Dartmouth freshmen carried this practice with them to the home fields of Ivy League opponents, and their behavior became a source of embarrassment to the College. In October of 1982, an editorial in The Valley News declared that "it's a sad day when a visiting marching band requires police protection just to perform a half-time show. It's even sadder when the threat bears the weight of a Dartmouth Tradition ... Something is wrong if this is how Dartmouth shows its 'school spirit.'" And in editorials in the fall of 1985 and 1986 The Dartmouth called upon the administration to curb what had clearly become a dangerous practice. "We shiver with fear when contemplating the dangerous situation created by their antics," wrote The Dartmouth about the freshmen in the class of 1989. "[Freshman Dean Margaret] Bonz and the College haven't gone far enough," wrote The Dartmouth the following year. "They are still willing to condone the students' rush onto the field. Until the College tames its freshmen, visitors will be in danger."

In fact, by the fall of 1987, the College no longer had a choice. In response to the half-time behavior of Dartmouth's freshmen, the Ivy League approved a regulation which forbade spectators from coming onto the playing surface between the start and finish of any athletic competition. Dean Bonz wrote to the Class of 1991 in the summer of 1987 to inform its members that there would be stiff penalties for any students caught rushing the field during football games. Slowly the practice has subsided. The number of students rushing the field in each of the past three years has been in the single digits (only one in the fall of 1995). However, the reputation is harder to shake; the Yale marching band was the last significant victim of the practice (one of its horn players had her teeth broken and her instrument damaged) and it is for this reason that Yale has not brought its band in each of their last two away games at Dartmouth.

It has always been difficult for me to understand the impulse of some upperclass students to turn spectators into the spectacle by goading the newest members of our community into illegal activity. Not even two per cent of any class currently attending Dartmouth has actually rushed the field, and yet upperclass students taunt first-year students into behavior in which they themselves have never taken part. Lea Kelley wrote in an editorial in The Dartmouth's Homecoming issue that she had been "too intoxicated to see the field" in her own freshman year, otherwise she presumably would have rushed the field (Oct. 18). But I expect that some other upperclass students refrained for other reasons. Particularly in a year in which the play on the field is first-rate, I expect that most members of the Class of 2000 will simply conclude that it is our football players -- rather than themselves -- who should be the center of attention. It is the game, after all, that we have come to observe and, in so doing, show our spirit and dedication to Dartmouth.

I do not believe that any Dartmouth student has ever rushed the field with the intention of doing harm to others. And, in fact, the presence of a very small number of students on the field at half-time poses little threat. But even the best intentioned individuals cannot predict what they will do when part of a large mob and, consequently, the practice of rushing the field is likely to remain forbidden in the Ivy League for a very long time.

Dartmouth students in the Class of 2000 must be permitted to make up their own minds without the kind of infantile taunting in which Lea Kelley has indulged. Nor do the promises of an off-campus student newspaper to pay the fines of field rushers constitute a contribution to reasoned discourse or informed decision-making (will they also communicate with the medical and law schools that the students may wish someday to attend, when an explanation of a disciplinary record is required?). Rather, the newest members of our community deserve to be apprised of all the facts. And while in the end the choice is theirs, it is my hope that young adults being educated for citizenship at the close of the twentieth century would consider factors beyond the possible sanctions in deciding whether to break the law or flout a college regulation. Do we refrain from shop-lifting only for fear of the consequences should we be caught, or do we attempt to make the kinds of distinctions between right and wrong that are required in a just and ordered society? I am confident that members of this class have taken the time to understand the reason for the regulation and, should they nevertheless find it unfair, to discover ways to question (rather than undermine) it. In a community of scholars based upon the value of reasoned discourse, that is finally the only choice.