By Danny Priest
Springfield College is full of tradition. There are traditions that range from recent ones such as midnight bingo to more classic practices such as new student orientation. For all of the rituals out there on campus, there may not be one more well known or longer practiced than that of freshmen wearing beanies.
On campus the term “beanie” has been and always will be synonymous with freshmen. Yet what many people may not be aware of is exactly how long the custom has been around or how it’s changed over the years.
According to Springfield College’s official website, the tradition of wearing beanies has been around since the early 1920s.
Now in 2019, some freshmen despise the beanie and refuse to wear it, which is completely acceptable, but that was not always the case.
Back in the early days of beanies, freshmen had to wear the caps all year long until Stepping Up or “Decapitation Day” in the Spring. The only way for the freshmen to be able to take off the beanies any sooner was to win a game of football against the sophomore class.
On top of those stipulations, the beanies worn by freshmen were green in color. The reasoning behind that was because new students were “green” and inexperienced, and the beanie was a way to put that on display.
As all long-standing traditions are forced to do, the beanie evolved and changed. By the 1930s they were maroon and white to match the school colors. By the 1970’s the freshmen could take off their beanies if they won a rope pull against the sophomores on the first weekend of the year.
Of course that rope pull wasn’t exactly fair. For starters, freshmen had to cross the train trestle (located to the left of International Hall) to reach the other side of Lake Massasoit.
Once across, freshmen stood on a small bank that was sloped downwards towards the water and had to pull against the sophomores standing on a flat surface on the other side.
Not exactly fair, but legend has it that the “smart” freshmen classes would tie their end of rope to a tree so it was impossible for them to lose. Perhaps that was an early sign that Springfield College is a group of competitors.
Tamie Kidess Lucey is the Director of Alumni Relations at Springfield College and has been for 33 years. As a graduate of the college herself in 1981 and having a father who attended the institution, she’s seen the evolution of beanies her entire life.
“I think that one reason the beanie tradition has survived at Springfield where it may not have survived at other institutions is we’ve evolved it with the times,” she said.
“We didn’t insist forever and ever that freshmen had to wear the beanies for all first semester or the whole year if they didn’t win a rope pull,” Lucy added.
All of the details mentioned above are fun. Rope pulls, football games, having some fun at the expense of freshmen, but looking a little deeper the beanie represents a lot more than just some silly hat freshmen are made to wear to look ridiculous.
“It’s (the beanie) a rite of passage, it’s a symbol of being part of a family. We don’t have fraternities and sororities and it’s very intentional why we don’t,” Lucey said of beanies and the college.
“We are the fraternity and sorority, it is all of us. We are the family, we are the people. So that beanie or that bucket hat is a symbol that you’re a part of us. You’re part of our people,” she said.
For as minuscule as it may be on the surface, the beanie means so much more on a deeper level and there’s evidence that supports that. Each year at convocation the student bleachers become a sea of beanies. Why? Because students are buying in and joining the family.
Take the class of 1976 for an example of just how much beanies represent. When they entered the campus as freshmen they were given arm bands rather than beanies.
In 2016 for their 40th reunion they requested beanies because they wanted to be part of something special. They wanted to be part of a tradition.
40 years later.
It was still on their minds.
Take it from graduates themselves, that beanie is always going to hold a place in their hearts.
Charlie Sullivan is a Professor of Physical Education and the men’s volleyball coach at Springfield. He’s been a member of the family since receiving his undergraduate degree in 1991.
“No one wants to wear their beanie when they receive it and then you are forced to make yourself vulnerable and put it on. At that point your courage feels good and it opens you up to growth,” Sullivan said.
“As you continue to grow under the Humanics umbrella at Springfield College you start to appreciate and even love your beanie for without it you would not have taken a chance and you would have missed the great feeling of joy and happiness that come along with growth. As you get to be my age you think to yourself, what would I have been without this silly hat,” he added.
Sullivan is not the only alum to have these types of feelings about the beanie. Michelle Moosbrugger is the Co-Chair of the Department of Physical Education and Health Education and received her undergraduate degree from Springfield in 2000; she too has a soft sentiment for her beanie.
“It’s incredibly powerful to see that faculty and staff who are alumni have kept their beanies all these years. When we were undergraduate students, we had no idea that our career paths would bring us back home to Springfield College,” she said.
“So, we didn’t keep our beanies because we thought we’d wear them again while working at Springfield College. I kept my beanie because it symbolizes my initial connection to a place and an experience that became an integral part of who I am.”
Beanies won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. They are as much a part of Springfield College as the Naismith statue right in the middle of campus.
They represent so much more than anyone could have imagined when the tradition began in the 1920s. In all likelihood anytime a graduate looks at their beanie in the future, it’s going to put a smile on their face.
The time spent at Springfield College is temporary, but the family gained there is forever.
Photo Courtesy Danny Priest