This Hope College Ritual Is One Of The Weirdest College Traditions

A lot of colleges have been around for a long while, and along the way have developed some odd traditions. Think: Pomona College's obsession with the number 47, the naked quad run at Tufts, or the "Healy Howl" at Georgetown (via Mental Floss). But one of the weirdest might be at a Christian college you may not have even heard of: tiny Hope College in Holland, Michigan, with a student body of just over 3,000, according to U.S. News and World Report. (Its most famous alumnus is probably Sufjan Stevens, per Allmusic.) At this unassuming school, you can see the most intense tug-of-war fight in the world, battled between freshmen and sophomores, according to Hope College.

Sound just like typical undergraduate joviality? Consider that the tug-of-war match is three hours long, that each side practices for a month before competing, that the pullers work from within trenches, and that the 600-foot-long rope weighs a ton. Yeah, it's intense. Here's how the game goes down.

Odd versus even

The tradition began in 1898 (via Hope College), so it's undoubtedly changed over the years, but these days, each side has up to 18 pullers on the rope, along with a maximum of 18 "moralers." The moralers don't just cheer the pullers on — they relay and coordinate instructions, since the pullers operate from inside pits to keep them from sliding into the river, and therefore can't see what's going on.

Also on the team are upperclassmen coaches — juniors for the freshmen, and seniors for the sophomores, so that the teams are made up of odd and even graduation years, according to Detroit Free Press. For the 2021 contest, held in October, these coaches led three-hour practices six days per week, beginning three weeks before the competition.

The most hardcore pulling position is the "anchor" — that is, the puller at each end of the rope. To keep his team from losing ground as the other team yanks, this puller wraps and ties the rope around himself (though women are usually among the pullers these days, it's unclear if there's ever been a woman anchor — from photos, they're usually sizable men).

In three hours, the game is called, with the winner the team who has gained the most ground — or pulled the rope clean away. The shortest match was 2 minutes and 40 seconds, in 1956.