MURPHY: Sawdust and pep: a student looks back

Photo by Doug Peters

Photo by Matthew Serafin /

Ryan Murphy

The Marquette Tribune is preparing to celebrate its centennial, so in the spirit of nostalgia, I decided to take a look at its first paper, published Sept. 30, 1916. The world was a different place then. For two dollars, you could buy a hat, and for 10 cents, you could wear it to the movies (which, unfortunately, would not have sound until 1927). America had yet to endure the horrors of WWI, and Marquette still had a football team – what a time to be alive.

They were very proud of themselves at the Trib in those first days. “Sold on its merits as a newspaper,” read the front page, I suppose to reassure the readers that it wasn’t a brochure. Clearly, we have lost some of that confidence over the past century, as we now feel the need to advertise our existence at least two or three times in every issue.

My favorite part of the paper was the front-page story, which described an upcoming competition between the freshmen and sophomores. The freshmen were to paint their faces black (that wouldn’t fly today) and the sophomores red. Five large sacks of wet saw dust were lined up across the middle of the field; when the signal was given, each side would run to the middle and try to move to their side as many sacks as possible; they could use whatever means necessary, barring, of course, “unnecessary roughness” or the use of a weapon. If it doesn’t sound intense to you yet, everyone got out of class early for this.

As an RA in a sophomore dorm, I can say confidently that this freshmen-sophomore rivalry remains intact. Though instead of battling over wet sacks, it is played out in dodgeball during the Golden Eagle Games and the Turkey Bowl between Schroeder and Abbottsford halls. I had hoped to find a new outlet for this rivalry with a dance-off after the Square Dance, but my friends are too sophisticated for that sort of a thing, and besides, the music was – how should I say this – bad.

Hopefully, the freshmen reading this are picking up that whatever rivalry that does exist is entirely friendly. It says right in the 1916 sawdust rules, “The contest shall in no sense be construed as hazing.” Besides, the biggest theme throughout that first paper was not competition between the classes – it was a broader school spirit. “We can make this the livest year the old school has ever known if we want to do so,” raved another article. “The only thing that will do is ‘pep,’ and lots of it … After all, ‘pep’ is only a state of mind. It’s an inner feeling radiating from every student – freshman to post-graduate – a feeling of push and go-ahead that brooks no opposition.” Even though the sawdust game has passed with the typewriters and Vaudeville shows, this “pep” has survived the years. Welcome to Marquette, class of 2019. You are a part of an exciting tradition.