Women and pong: 'just as into it'

by Jennifer Garfinkel | 11/18/05 6:00am

Editor's Note: This is the third in a three-part series looking at the evolution of beer pong as a social and cultural phenomenon at Dartmouth. This article will examine the changing role of gender in pong and the female perception of the game.

Dating back to the early 1950s, beer pong is a Dartmouth tradition older than coeducation, but women and pong have similar histories at the College. Both started with minor roles on campus, grew to be accepted by most students and, after a few decades, are now considered integral parts of Dartmouth life.

Women have been playing pong at Dartmouth since before coeducation. Fraternity members would bring their dates from nearby women's colleges to their Greek houses, often inviting the ladies to join them on table.

"Sometimes the guy would drink for the date," an Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity alumnus recalled about the 1970s. "Sometimes there were women who were just as into it."

As women trickled onto campus in low numbers, the booming and wild social climate of Dartmouth past began to ease, with some men taking out their animosity toward the new female invasion on the pong table.

"A handful of guys played harder against the new women," the Alpha Chi remembered.

Others recall women playing during the early years of coeducation but maintain that it was still an arena dominated by men.

"Women could play. Mostly I remember men playing," said Danny Kopec '75, a member of the last all-male class. "The girls watched and laughed."

The first two classes of women at Dartmouth each comprised a handful of students who joined Alpha Theta fraternity, which went coed right after the College admitted women.

Doug Britton '73, an Alpha Theta alumnus, said women were playing pong -- "but not a huge amount."

Although men remained dominant in the world of pong, some men accepted the presence, and talents, of women.

"Every now and then there were some women who were pretty good, and they liked to show that they could hold their own," Phi Delta Alpha alumnus David Chilcote '80 said. "But there weren't a lot of women playing."

Before long, the presence of women on campus grew, and they joined the ranks of their male beer-guzzling counterparts. But even as more women began to play pong, divisions between the sexes remained in a different way -- certain styles of Dartmouth pong developed gendered connotations.

Lob pong came into fashion in the 1980s, and while certain fraternities adopted the new game, others continued to play the faster more traditional game of slam pong. Lob pong was a more slowly paced game in which players would arc the ball with their paddles, and many players felt it required less skill and coordination.

"Only wimps play lob pong," Chilcote said.

The assertion may seem harsh, but pong anecdotes from Dartmouth alumnae confirm that different styles of pong were aligned with different sexes.

Brittney Wertheim Hegarty '91 said she could hold a table for long periods of time when she played lob pong with her best girl friend at Chi Gamma Epsilon or the now de-recognized Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Hegarty stayed away from slam pong at houses like Alpha Chi.

"I never played it because it was too hard for me," Hegarty said.

But even if women loved pong during their time at Dartmouth, they are more likely than men to look back on the game with disdain. Hegarty, who once convinced members of Chi Gam to drag a pong table into the snow during Winter Carnival's "Come As You Are" party, was slightly sickened when she remembered drinking beer that had a filthy ball floating in it. She called it "disgusting if you're a girl."

One of Hegarty's friends and classmates, Yvette Mercado Hammel '91, agreed that the game was enjoyable, but looking back, she can't believe she played it.

"It has to be the foulest game ever invented," Hammel said. "I don't know how I don't have more germs on me."

Still, Hammel recalled that "men were totally accepting."

Now that women play pong with the best of them, both in fraternity and sorority basements, the focus has shifted to the formation of cups rather than the style of play. Until the mid 1990s, beer pong featured two cups of beer on each side of the table, but now each side of the table has seven or 11 cups of beer for a standard game, with special formations such as ship and social featuring even more.

"Shrub is for girls and lightweights," Chris Knight '03 said of the seven-cup formation, trying to defend his favorite style of pong: ship.

Many would argue that the smaller amount of beer in shrub makes it suitable for women, who are likely to be smaller than men and may have lower alcohol tolerances. But some students on today's campus, which boasts an equal percentage of male and female students, are offended by such statements.

"I love playing tree -- it's way more fun than shrub," Jenny Fisher '08 said. "And the group of girls I played with last Monday would most definitely agree."

Regardless of the formation or style, one thing remains certain -- the amount of female pong players has risen, and may finally be equal to that of men.

"While in Hanover for my 25th [reunion]," a male member of the class of 1980 said, "I noticed that nearly half of the alums playing at the younger class reunion tents were women."