The venerable Hope College Pull tug-of-war — which this fall is marking its 125th year in existence — will take place on Saturday, Oct. 1, 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, attempt to gain the most rope through their strength and stamina. This year’s contest will feature members of the sophomore Class of 2025 and freshman Class of 2026.
Although it’s been around for 125 years, this won’t be the 125th Pull. There have been five known cancellations, and there’s no record of whether or not there was a Pull during some of the earliest years after the first.
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.
The Pull was canceled most recently in 2020, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The other four cancellations 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.
Held across the Black River near U.S. 31 and M-21 from 1910 through 2018, the Pull moved to the current campus location in 2019 due to high water levels. As best can be gleaned from memory and period accounts, the Pull has taken place at just two other sites since it began in 1898: first across a small stream near Pilgrim Home Cemetery; and — also because of wet conditions — across the Black River at the former 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 sophomore Class of 2024 won the 2021 Pull, held on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Through the years, the sophomores and even-year classes have held the edge in the win-loss column. Since 1909, the sophomores have taken 71 contests to the freshmen’s 33; the even-year/odd-year split for the same period is 57 to 47. There are three draws on record: in 1916, 1952 and 1977.
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.