The venerable Hope College Pull tug-of-war is returning after a one-year hiatus, and will take place on Saturday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m. along the south side of 11th Street between Lincoln and Fairbanks avenues.
The public is invited. Admission is free.
First held in 1898, the Pull is an annual fall highlight at Hope. In the competition, freshman and sophomore teams, entrenched in shallow pits on opposite sides of the river, attempt to gain the most rope through their strength and stamina.
The event was canceled last year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As was also the case with the event’s most recent installment in 2019, the contest is being held on campus instead of at the traditional Black River location because of high water levels.
“The Pull is a treasured Hope tradition and we’re glad that it can return this year,” said the event’s staff adviser, Dr. Richard Frost, who is vice president for student development and dean of students. “We are disappointed that the water levels have again prevented us from holding it at the Black River, which has been a central part of the competition for more than a century, but we are excited that we found in 2019 that the campus location made it easier for people to attend and experience it. The students have done an outstanding job of putting this year’s Pull together, and the teams have been hard at work training, and we hope that the campus and Holland communities will come to 11th Street to cheer them on.”
This year’s Pull will pit members of the Classes of 2025 (freshmen) and 2024 (sophomores) against one another. Each team has the same number of members, with up to 18 students apiece on the rope as “pullers” and an equivalent total acting as guides and morale boosters, or “moralers.” The freshmen are coached by the junior class while the sophomores are instructed by the seniors. The coaching arrangement also leads to a rivalry between the even-year and odd-year classes.
Last year was only the fifth recorded cancelation in the Pull’s 124-year history. The other four cancelations were during the world wars (1918, 1943 and 1944), and because of a campus-wide flu epidemic (1957). There is no record of the contests from 1899 through 1908.
As best can be gleaned from memory and period accounts, the Pull has taken place at just three other locations since it began in 1898: first across a small stream near Pilgrim Home Cemetery; at its best-known site across the Black River for most of 1910 through 2018; and — also because of wet conditions — across the Black River at the American Legion golf course in 1952.
In 1977, the Pull set a record for length and uniqueness. The freshmen and sophomores tugged for three hours and 51 minutes before judges called a tie due to darkness. In contrast, the shortest Pull lasted two minutes and 40 seconds in 1956.
New rules were implemented in 1978, following the 1977 marathon, limiting the event’s duration. The rules now allow the judges to determine the winning class by measuring the amount of rope pulled from the other team if one team has not claimed all of the rope within three hours.
The freshman Class of 2023 won the 2019 Pull, held on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Through the years, the sophomores and even-year classes have held the edge in the win-loss column. Since 1909, the sophomores have taken 70 contests to the freshman class’s 32; the even-year/odd-year split for the same period is 56 to 46.
11th Street will be closed between Lincoln and Fairbanks due to the Pull, although there will still be access to the DeVos Fieldhouse parking lots along 11th, which will be available for public use. There will be no parking on the south side of 11th Street along the Pull site.
Due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Hope is currently requiring that masks be worn by all individuals while indoors on campus, unless in their living space or alone in their work space, but not at outdoor events.