According to the November 12, 1947 edition of the Kenyon Collegian, the annual Cane Rush began with “a shot, a cry of ‘Banzai!’ [and] a trample of feet.” The Cane Rush—a fierce competition between the first-year and sophomore classes—was a highly anticipated event at Kenyon for over 70 years.
While the rules and regulations of the Cane Rush were amended throughout its existence, the general principle of the sport was as follows: According to Kenyon College: Its Third Half Century by former College archivist Thomas Boardman Greenslade ’31, a single wooden cane was placed on either the lawn north of Ascension Hall or in the middle of the former Benson Football Field during halftime of a game.
The sophomore and first-year classes would then line up at opposite ends of the field and wait for a signal notifying them it was time to sprint towards the cane. Once the signal was given, the class that was able to put the most hands on the cane was deemed victorious.
Greenslade notes that one of the most popular methods for maintaining control of the cane was having the first person to reach it, “throw it backwards over his head to the other members of his class, who would immediately fall on it in a pile.”
The first-year class had the most to gain from winning the Rush. If they were victorious, certain restrictions they faced—such as mandatory leapfrogging over the Middle Path gates and being required to sing “There is a Hell for Freshmen” while crawling on their knees in a line directly outside Old Kenyon Hall—would be lifted.
In the early stages of the Cane Rush, there was a hide-and-seek game the night prior to the event. If a member of either class was captured, they would not be able to participate in the Rush.
This was evident in Kenyon’s first official Cane Rush in 1897. According to the November 1897 edition of the Collegian, a sophomore who wandered away from his class before the Rush was “promptly seized and tied and conducted to the woods about three miles away from college, where he was bound to a tree and left to meditate in his folly.”
The first-years, who outnumbered the sophomores by almost a two-to-one margin in 1897, lost the Rush in 13 minutes. They allowed the sophomores to push the cane over a fence between Ascension Hall and Hubbard Hall (the library at the time), which, at that point, was the criteria for victory. The first years, who were noted as taking their defeat “gracefully,” celebrated the sophomores’ victory by building them a bonfire.
The Cane Rush was revised massively twice, in 1907 and 1909. In 1907, the Cane Rush Committee published a column in the Collegian acknowledging that the Cane Rush needed major, systematic changes in order to remain a practiced tradition.
The Committee noted that “for the past two or three years the entering classes at Kenyon have increased in size to such an extent that the present system of the Cane Rush seemed almost impractical.” What once was under 50 students battling for the cane had become an untenable 70.
The Committee proposed a series of changes. However, two new, major rules were emphasized: the cane was now not allowed to touch the ground, and the system of counting the amount of hands on the cane was to be retired.
Instead, each class was now required to “have the cane beyond a certain line after the expiration of ten minutes,” in order to win. The Committee also stated that “cleated shoes … clubs, rocks … eggs, [and] flour,” were all banned from use in the Rush.
The 1907 Cane Rush, now with a totally new assortment of rules, was an epic battle between the two classes. The entire first-year class, in an attempt to not have any members of their class kidnapped by the sophomores, hid in an abandoned log cabin on Hazel Dell road across the Kokosing River the night before the Cane Rush.
According to the Collegian, the junior class provided the first years “provisions” and gave them advice in preparation for the following day’s event. The sophomores, who searched for the first years as a group, got within a quarter of a mile of the cabin; yet, they could not locate the hiding men.
The next day, then College President William Foster Peirce presented the first years with the cane, and the Rush began. At the end of the 10-minute match, the Collegian reported that the cane “lay almost outside the sophomores’ territory, giving the victory to the entering [first-year] class.”
In 1909, even more changes were put into place, as the Cane Rush Committee implemented a rule that the Cane must begin in the center of the field, rather than starting in the possession of the first-year class.
The Cane Rush continued on as a tradition well into the 1950s and 1960s, until it was downgraded from annual to an occasional event, with the last reported Rush taking place in 1966.
As its days of being marched and paraded down Middle Path are over, the very cane that many generations of students risked the fear of being kidnapped or injured now rests in the Kenyon College Archives. Across the exterior of the cane are, in numerical order, are engravings of the (post-1900) years the Cane Rush took place.
This single cane survives as the last physical manifestation of a half-century’s worth of bloody, restless battles between the first-year and sophomore classes.