USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Sports Tradition’

Ring the Chapel Bell

“Uhh…I guess we all know…you ring the chapel bell after…Like after, um, a team wins or just like after something good happens to you like if you get an “A” on a test or something. Ummm.  Like after football games, if we win, there’s like an hour wait to go ring the bell. Ummm.” (I asked if she had rung the bell.) “Yes.  Well it’s a tradition for my like sorority family to go do it on big little reveal night, and we also do it on bid night.  And ummm. I have never done it after a football game just cause it’s too long.”

The informant attends the University of Georgia, and she loves football like most of her school, which is probably why the line is so long at the bell after a team win.  The bell allows everyone to take part in the joy of winning the football game.  The informant told me that the university talked about the ritual on the tours for prospective students, but it is also just something that everyone knows.  Ringing the chapel bell and knowing what that means is an initiation into the university community, and as she said, it has been adopted by her sorority as an initiation ritual for new members.  In addition to celebrating what good thing has happened to you, no matter how small, ringing the bell becomes common knowledge that helps the new members of a sorority or freshman at the university make the shift from being outsiders to insiders.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thunder Dome

Um, okay, so I guess I’m talking about Thunder Dome, which was a ritual thingie for my water polo team in high school. Um, uh, so, basically, it was like this exercise we did every week for hell week, which was like the most intense part of practice, I guess. It’s before the season starts, like a week. Anyway, this particular exercise, um, basically what they would do is, they wouldn’t tell you what it was until you were about to start it, so for like the freshman it was like this big deal. So what they would do is wheel out this big speaker system. And they’d start playing “Thunderstruck” by AC DC, like really, really loud, on the pool deck or whatever. And then, uh, they would have to uh line up in two different rows on each side of the pool. Basically the rules of the game is you have to stop the other person—you were like matched up with someone on the other side—you have to stop the other person from scoring any way you wanted to. And if you didn’t you had to keep going against another person, and another person, another person, another person, until you do. And, yeah, that was basically the game.

This sample of folklore describes a rite of passage. The secrecy and fear of the mysterious “Thunder Dome,” is a way for older high school students to intimidate, and allow new freshman team members to prove themselves in order to be accepted as part of the team. The game is an extreme version of water polo that allows freshman to show the team what they’ve got. If one performs poorly at Thunder Dome, they are off to a bad start as a member of the team. Doing well can increase one’s standing in the eyes of older players. This tradition can lead to acceptance by a niche peer group.


“Post-Race Ritual”

            The informant rowed for the University of California, Berkeley’s lightweight crew team for four years before graduating. He rowed in numerous regattas throughout his athletic career in college, and describes a ritual that he observed―and practiced―at the end of every race. The informant continues rowing recreationally and recounted the practice of the ritual in his apartment, where he had just returned from an early morning row out in the Oakland estuary.


            After a race, if you lose, you are traditionally supposed to remove the tank top that you wore during the race and give it to the winning crew. Why do we do it? It is almost like you’re paying tribute to the winning crew. In most crew races you don’t receive a medal, so it’s almost like the honorable thing to do if you lose is to give something of yours to the winners. It’s a very long-standing tradition. I learned very quickly after I lost my first race. I just observed some of the older varsity members take off their tanks―well, traditionally the practice began with taking the actual tank off of your back. That’s kind of gross in a lot of ways because you’re sweaty and it’s a bit nasty so what most people end up doing is bringing extra tanks to any given regatta so we can hand out fresh tanks if we lose. You go over to the opposing crew and you meet the guy who sits in your seat. So, let’s say if I was in the bow, then I would go up to the bow seat in the winning crew. I would introduce myself, make a little awkward small talk, and then hand my tank to him. The winners might collect a lot of tanks depending and how many boats were in the race. Some boats don’t abide by this tradition, but then they’re considered as assholes.


            The collection of the informant’s story immediately following his morning practice is of particular importance because of the informant’s demeanor during his retelling. He spoke softly and his eyes looked distant, as if he were recalling the memories of former races with nostalgia. This suggests that, despite the fact that the informant surrendered many of his own tanks to opposing crews, the ritual itself was more important as it functions as an integral part of the rower’s experience. Similar practices are seen in other sports―notably, soccer―but not perhaps as formalized as the ritual the informant describes.

            It is also interesting to note that the ritual has adapted over the years and teams now bring a fresh set of tanks to the regatta, raising the issue that hygiene has perhaps taken precedence over the value of the losing rowers’ hard work manifested in his sweaty tank. In this case, it seems the act of surrendering the tank may now be more significant than the tank itself as a symbol.


Dirty Jersey and Trophy Helmet: Sport Customs

A Rugby ritual and a Football tradition as told verbatim by informant:

“One of the team rituals we had playing rugby in college was that we wouldn’t wash our jerseys from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Um, and so, um, I I don’t know what the why it started but that’s how it was told to me and and uh some people believed it made you look like a rougher tougher team um it certainly made us smell worse. And you know I stuck to that tradition um and you know rugby of course can be a very dirty game and particularly if you play in the rain you’d get incredibly muddy and so you know your shirt you could hang outside if it was really full of mud and then it would dry and cake and you could beat your shirt and get the mud off it but still you had to put it on for the next game, so. I tried to instill a similar tradition uh you know when I played rugby in medical school but the, the other guys weren’t as interested in keeping the tradition. (wife interjects, they both laugh, and he repeats) Some of them did it. It bonds you as a team but also again it was for some players a form of intimidation. If you went out there with a clean jersey you looked like a rookie. But if you went out there with a dirty jersey you looked like you really knew how to play the game.

There was a tradition in football too where in um in football you wear a helmet and in the beginning of the season usually the helmet’s nice and clean, it’s been freshly painted. Well, during the season your goal was to collect as many marks on your helmet as you could uh because we use our helmet to hit people and so you wanted to get scratches and scuff marks and you wanted to get at least a color from every team you played against. It was like a collection of trophies from the other team so you wanted to get a color of every single team you were playing against. And that showed you were always hitting people, that you were a tough guy. And you never wanted the coach to re-paint your helmet during the season. In college it’s a little tougher to do because they wanted to re-paint your your helmet all the time. So literally you had to sometimes take your helmet and keep it with you against team rules so that they wouldn’t paint it. I did it in high school for sure and then I tried to do it as much as I could in college.”

While both customs hold little symbolic or abstract meaning, as the informant suggests the factors of team bonding and intimidation signified by the dirty jerseys and marked up helmets play a big role in physically brutal sports like rugby and football. These traditions provide solidarity while still playing the mental game inherent in any competition. Rugby and football also are particularly dangerous, difficult, and “macho” sports, thus jerseys and helmets function like war-paint in battle, as players animalize themselves in the face of their opponents.