50 Crazy College Campus Traditions: Part 3

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Penn State: THON

It's hard to picture doing anything for 46 straight hours, let alone dancing. And yet, this is exactly what the participants in Penn State's THON attempt to do every year since 1973. It was during this year that a group of students seeking a creative way to brighten up Pennsylvania's typically dreary Februaries concocted the idea of this never-ending dance marathon.

The official name of this event is Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which doesn't fit on a flyer quite as well as THON. The basic gist of it is that, beginning at 6PM on the third Friday in February, designated dancers must commence to boogie.

Official rules state that one's booty shall not quit until 4PM on the approaching Sunday. If you think that sounds brutal, consider this: When they play "The Macarena", you have to do it.

The inaugural event was dedicated to raising money for children with special needs, a cause worthy enough to keep participants on their feet and moving throughout the duration. The original dance-off featured 39 swinging couples and raised roughly $2000. Today, believe it or not, THON is the single largest student-run philanthropic organization in the world and is dedicated to supporting the fight against childhood cancer.

The annual event will be orchestrated by roughly 15,000 volunteers and will ultimately cram some 700 dancers into the Bryce Jordan Center for the ordeal. The group raised an astonishing $13 million+ in 2014 alone.

University of Vermont: Naked Bike Ride

Naked Bike Ride
Photo by Sue Kellerman

It's hard to imagine a less comfortable way to spend an evening. But for University of Vermont students nearing the end of their annual studies, the Naked Bike Ride is a much-anticipated expression of freedom…freedom from classes, freedom from professors, and of course, freedom from clothing.

On the final night of classes, the university's student body displays…well…its student's bodies, in an exercise of mass streaking accelerated by the presence of wheeled conveyance. Students have called the event a collective celebration of university pride and positive body image, whereas school administrators have regarded it as a nuisance to public safety.

In 2011, the university announced that it would no longer provide university funding and resources for the event…which means that prior to this year, the university provided funding and resources for the event! Indeed, security and barricades had been supplied by the university since the inaugural 1996 ride.

Though the university has withdrawn its official support, and though evening temperatures can dip to unflattering subzero temperatures, students continue to embrace the event as a way to strip themselves of the pressures inherent to each passing semester.

Georgia Tech: The Mini 500

What looks more ridiculous than a bunch of full-grown people riding tricycles? Almost nothing.

GT Mini 500
Photo by Excaliburhorn

That's pretty much the premise behind Georgia Tech's annual three-wheeled derby. The Mini 500 is a much-loved and long-practiced competition amid the festivities of homecoming weekend. Though various student houses and organizations have taken part in the race since the first heat rolled out in 1969, the event was originally inspired by the popular appeal of watching fraternity pledges peddle awkwardly around campus as a measure of hazing.

This fun and demeaning practice ultimately morphed into the race which draws hundreds of voluntary participants today. The marathon begins as crouched riders line up behind Georgia Tech's beloved vehicular mascot, the Ramblin' Wreck. For men, it ends after 15 complete revolutions of the Peters Parking Deck. For women, 10 laps must be completed.

Riders will jockey for position while experimenting with any number of equally hilarious riding techniques. The end result is one of the most widely inefficient Super Mario Kart races that you've ever witnessed.

The Mini 500 also holds a decidedly unusual distinction. In 2010, it was the subject of a 30-second Public Service Announcement produced by and about Georgia Tech that was awarded a regional Emmy in the category of “Best Television Commercial Produced in the Southeast.” As an Emmy-worthy subject, the Mini 500 is the closest thing to Bryan Cranston that you'll find on our list.

Elon University: Elon Festivus

George Costanza's father famously tells the story of Festivus in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. In it, he describes a secular celebration lacking the exclusiveness of other seasonal holidays. He declares it, “a festivus for the rest of us!”

Like so many other Seinfeldian concepts, this one needled its way into real life. The unaffiliated celebrants of the world mark Festivus on December 23rd each year.

The students on this idyllic North Carolina campus celebrate their Festivus in the spring. Originally conceived by Elon University “Bros” without affiliation to the Greek system, Elon Festivus is intended as an all-inclusive blowout for the whole university. This ambition is really the only thing it has in common with the Costanza family's tradition. As one source notes, there are no Airings of Grievances and the only real Feats of Strength involve hauling kegs from Point A to Point B. Elon Festivus

We also can't recall the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, George and company threw down in a massive mud wrestling melee. Indeed, this is the most distinctive predilection of Elon's students in a celebration that has grown in ambition and visibility since its 2004 debut. Estimates placed roughly 2000 students at the scene of the grime in 2014.

The campus is consequently inundated by mud people, who have engendered some administrative resentment for helping to redistribute the university's dirt to the wall, floors, and edifices of its residential halls. Suffice it to say, Elon Festivus, though cherished by students, is neither university- nor Seinfeld-sanctioned.

Tulane University: Crawfest

20,000 pounds of mudbugs!

Either a biblical plague is upon us or it's time once again for Tulane University's amazing Crawfest. Ensconced in the constant bacchanal that is New Orleans, Tulane is site to some of the world's most epic partying and binge-eating. Crawfest is both of these things and so much more.Tulane Crawfest

Held each year to mark the start of crawfish season in the Big Easy—typically in early spring—Crawfest extols all things New Orleans. First things first. If you've never seen a crawfish, let alone eaten one, they're basically tiny little lobsters and once you get going, you can suck them down like a walrus at Happy Hour. Crawfish are, to be sure, ranked high among the culinary delights trawled from the murky depths of the bayou.

But of course, those delights are many and varied. So too are the offerings of the Crawfest. In addition to long, newspaper-covered tables landscaped by mountains of boiled critters, Crawfest features vendors, crafts, and nearly every cajun comestible you could imagine. If you happen to be a student or faculty at Tulane, crawfish are free-of-charge, all-you-can-eat, and impossible-to-resist.

And because it is New Orleans, the festival also serves as a welcome excuse to host a day-long concert featuring national headliners, brass bands, and local legends. Since the inaugural Crawfest in 2006, Tulane's celebration has drawn ever larger crowds. Indeed, each year, the campus population of 13,000 roughly doubles with crawfish hungry visitors.

University of Tennessee: Ace Miller Memorial Boxing Tournament

If you enjoy brotherhood and getting hit in the face, this is the long-standing college tradition for you. It's not that this tradition is particularly crazy, per se. It's just that, well we wouldn't do it.

But don't let that stop you. Every year, right around the dead of winter, the University of Tennessee holds its annual boxing tournament. Named after its late founder, the Ace Miller Memorial Boxing Tournament has marked the university's biggest annual rager since its initiation in 1981.

The three-day tournament, sponsored by Sigma Alpha Epsilon, will feature pugilists drawn from each of the university's fraternity houses. Fighters will compete against one another in eleven separate weight classes. Historically, spectators would fill the university's Jacobs Center to watch the fight. However, the crowds had grown so large by 2015 that the event shifted to the roomier Knoxville Expo Center.

Even if you don't plan on getting punched repeatedly for a good cause (all proceeds go to the Golden Gloves boxing charity), there's plenty for you to do during fight weekend. The Pub Brawl, for instance, is not as hostile as it sounds. It's really just a cleverly themed name for the beer-soaked bar crawl that occupies non-combative participants on the weekend of the main event.

Once the tournament's winners hoist their belts for the cameras (yes, there are actual belts), it's time for a campus-wide party and concert.

Le Moyne College: Dolphy Day

Depending on who you ask, Dolphy Day is named after the dolphin who serves as Le Moyne College's official mascot, or after legendary jazz flautist Eric Dolphy, or after a Frank Zappa song about said flautist.

And depending on who you ask, none of these things is true. Whatever the inspiration behind Dolphy Day, most of its participants will agree that this is the best day of the year on this private Jesuit campus in Syracuse, New York. What most distinguishes this class-free day of campus-wide partying is that nobody really knows when Dolphy Day is until it starts.

Typically held on one of the first warm days each spring semester, its arrival is generally a surprise to students, one signaled by an impromptu 2AM fireworks display. This kicks off 24 hours of merriment and silliness, all presumably inspired by the late jazz legend from which the event doesn't actually take its name.

A bit about that. Eric Dolphy was one of the all-time greats, and probed deep into experimental territory playing flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet alongside the likes of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. His career was all-too brief, cut short as it was by his death from undiagnosed diabetes at the age of 36. This was in 1964. Subsequently, Dolphy was referenced in the 1970 Frank Zappa tune, “Eric Dolphy Barbecue.”

Cue the first Dolphy Day in 1971. Today's celebrants believe the event to have been inspired by Dolphy's drive for unfettered artistic freedom while many who were there at the time of inception argue that the original event had nothing to do with the jazz musician and that it was largely an act of civil disobedience.

Whether or not that was true, the university has heartily embraced the tradition, going so far as to erect an on-campus statue of Dolphy—who we should mention never came close to Le Moyne College during his lifetime—in 2010. The university also contributes porta-potties, inflatable bounce houses, and as per Frank Zappa's insistence, an annual Eric Dolphy Barbecue.

Hollins University: Tinker Day

As you've probably gathered by now, it is not uncommon for students at nearly every university to enjoy a single special occasion without classes, responsibility, or sobriety. Perhaps only Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia can be said to celebrate this occasion at a 3000 foot elevation.

This is the special charm of Tinker Day, on which students celebrate freedom at altitude. In a tradition which some sources say extends back as far as the 1880s, Tinker Day will begin with a 7AM wakeup call wherein seniors march through residence halls at this all-women's college banging on pots and pans. This is the signal to rise, don an elaborate costume, and make for Moody Hall to consume donuts. Tinker Day

This is your fuel should you choose to engage the 4+ mile vertical loop that leads to the summit of Tinker Mountain and back. Most students describe the trail as slippery and treacherous, though that doesn't stop between 300 and 400 participants from making the trek each fall.

Those who do reach the top are rewarded with a feast of fried chicken and a local delicacy called tinker cake. This is followed by a rambunctious chorus of Disney song parodies and a series of student-run skits. Prizes are given for outstanding performances as well as to the class with the best turnout.

Hope College: The Pull

Hope College Pull
Of all the well-worn campus traditions on our list, this may be the most grueling. The small liberal arts campus of Hope College stands in close proximity to Michigan's Black River. This proximity has served well this oldest of Hope College traditions. Every fall semester since 1898, students have gathered on either side of the river with the intention of yanking the inhabitants of the opposite bank into wet, muddy defeat.

Often regarded as one of the great annual intra-collegiate Tug-of-War contests (and just as often regarded as among the only one of such traditions to survive past the Eisenhower Administration), this battle of physical fortitude pits freshmen against sophomores in the fight of their young lives. These underclassmen will function as the ‘pullers.'

They will be girded by the impassioned support of “moralers,” made up of juniors on the freshman side and seniors on the sophomore side. The result is a fierce and ongoing campus rivalry between odd- and even-yeared graduating classes. Lest you think the work of moralers is merely for pep, you should know that this is warfare. And as such, the pulllers who will grapple with a rope longer than a football field and six inches in diameter must do so from deep within trenches.

Thus, moralers stand above ground and serve as the eyes, ears, and any other body part required by the mighty pullers. The legendary Hope College Pull was originally designed to conclude at such point as one team successfully overpowered and thus drew the opposing team into the river. While the record for fastest victory was a 1956 pull in which the losing team was submerged in under three minutes, some of history's pulls have neared the four hour mark. Indeed, when a 1977 match was settled in a wholly unsatisfying tie after 3 hours and 51 minutes of knee-buckling competition, new rules were established.

Today, a match may not exceed three hours in length. Measurements are taken at that juncture to determine which team is ahead in the power struggle and by how many feet. Now, it is not the losing team which takes the plunge as punishment but the victor which celebrates its triumph with a swim.

State University of New York at Buffalo: Oozefest

Oozefest is the nation's largest collegiate mud volleyball tournament (because there are so many). Since 1984, students at SUNY Buffalo have greeted the spring by sloshing around in the mud.

But this sloshing isn't for nothing. The event, which was originally designed as a way to help students decompress before finals, has evolved into a fairly substantial tournament. The inaugural event featured 16 teams competing on two courts. By dramatic contrast, today's tournament features a bracket of 192 teams facing double elimination across 24 courts.

That means more than 1500 players will brave the swampy cold (it is Buffalo, remember) to be a part of the proceedings. Winners will receive trophies and gift cards. Prizes are also issued for best Team Costume. Indeed, Oozefest is quite the colorful and motley gathering...at least it is before all assembled are uniformly mired in brown.

Whatever costume you don, organizers from the Office of Student Life advise that your best friend on the day of Oozefest will be duct tape. The strategically placed sealant may be the only thing keeping your shoes and pants on your body, as well as keeping as much mud as possible out of your various unmentionables.

In spite of the obvious and inherent risk this implies, teams wishing to compete must reserve a slot early or risk being wait-listed for a coveted spot in the sludge.

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