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Controversies & Enigmas

"Scoreless but not goreless"

pushball

In one respect, life for Emory College students is considerably less harrowing than it used to be. Forty years ago, on October 14, 1955, the annual tradition of the freshman/sophomore pushball game, which began in 1923, was terminated. According to a University official, the contest was permanently canceled because of "mob violence."

Clyde Partin, a longtime health and physical education professor and Emory alumnus, remembers playing in one pushball game in the late 1940s. He says he declined to play again, because "I decided I'd rather have my life than play pushball. It was mayhem."

What follows are portions of an article about pushball's violent history, from the December 1955 Emory Alumnus.--John D. Thomas

"Dean of Students E. H. Rece '25G in handing down the order [to cancel pushball] said the 'game' had gotten out of hand. Dr. W. Roy Mason, director of student health, said, 'We were lucky to get by this year without a fatality. I'm sure it was only a question of time until someone got killed playing this so-called game.'

"What brought on these protests and the order to discontinue [were] the injuries resulting from the October 14 meeting, which was won by the sophomores 10-0 (two goals to none). During and immediately after the fracas the Student Infirmary was jammed with casualty cases. A large number with lesser injuries did not report them.

"Two students suffered concussions which easily could have been fatal; one of the two in addition sustained extensive fractures of facial bones which called for surgery to mend the face. A third student received a broken arm, a fourth a broken toe. Numerous students reported in with severe cuts and bruises. . . .

"The inaugural 1923 pushball battle resulted, as it was then reported, in a 'scoreless but not goreless' tie. The best available reports indicate that a game has been played each fall since that time with the exception of 1952, when the contest was temporarily discontinued as being 'dangerously rough.' Of all those games, the freshman class took only one--that of 1947. An occasional one ended in a tie, and the more experienced sophomores won the rest.

"In the early years, the entire membership of the two classes competed at the same time in the effort to push the great, 180-pound inflated ball across the opposing goal line. As injuries began to mount, though, the rules were changed so that only a specified number of players could participate at a time. This didn't help much, because 'ringers' would enter the fray in droves.

"For many years, University staff members served as referees. The practice was stopped after the students adopted the practice of removing the trousers from the officials and flinging them across the football field goal posts. Emory professors and executives were subjected to the double indignity of being detrousered, then having to shinny up the goal posts to retrieve their pants.

"To save the 'tradition,' one student group after another undertook to handle the officiating chores. . . . Things only got worse. The student referees not only were nearly stripped but were tossed into a chilly creek near by. And nobody could keep down the casualties as the underclassmen pushed, fought, wrestled, and trampled on one another."


Source: Emory Magazine, Autumn 2000

 

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