About the Pull
During the Pull, each team has up to 18 students on the rope known as “pullers,” and an equivalent number that act 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.
“I was on the Pull team in ’59 and ’60, and my wife Marilyn Slot was my morale girl both years. In fact we met on the practice field.”
—Keith Louwenaar ’63, Saratoga, California
The Pull tug-of-war was believed to have first been held in 1898. The event is mentioned in the November, 1898, issue of the college’s student newspaper, The Anchor, although no record of the outcome appears. The informal nature of the event in its early years means that there are few details from the Pull’s early history (pre-1909). We know that there were at least five years that the Pull was not held: 1918, 1943 and 1944 (war years); 1957 (when, according to the student paper at the time, a flu epidemic on campus prompted its cancelation); and 2019 (when it was canceled because of the global COVID-19 pandemic).
The event was originally held on a Friday afternoon; however, the event was moved to Saturday in 1993 to allow more to attend and to avoid conflicts with the college’s academic schedule.
“We, the freshmen of the 1913 class, pulled the sophomores thru the creek, which was somewhere east of the Pilgrim Cemetery — they hardly got their feet wet. The following year, the first pull across Black River was held.”
—The Rev. B.T. VanderWoude ’13, in a 1958 recollection
It is believed that 1994 was the first year that a woman, Nina Bieliauskas (class 0f ’97 from Ann Arbor, Michigan), tried out as a puller. Bieliauskas ended up becoming a moraler. In 1995, however, a woman named Keri Law (class of ’99 from Niles, Michigan) was the first woman to be chosen as a puller. Law also competed as a puller during the 1996 contest as a sophomore.
There are only three buildings on campus that are older than the Pull:
The shortest Pull, held in 1956, was 2 minutes and 40 seconds long. The longest Pull, held in 1977, was 3 hours and 31 minutes long, and was called a draw. The event is now limited to three hours maximum, a change implemented in 1978. At the end of the three hours, the judges may declare a winner by measuring gain.
Since 1909, there have been four draws: 1916, 1926, 1952 and 1977. The 1926 competitors later held a basketball game as a tie-breaker, in which the sophomores won.
A new rope was used for the 2013 pull. It is 600 feet long, 2.5 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 1,000 pounds.
It is possible for the rope to break, such as happened in 1974. In that year, a new one was obtained and the match was held on the following Monday. The rope stretches, and thus both sides can finish the Pull having gained rope. This happened in 1999, where the sophomore class of ’02 won having only gained 6 feet, 1 inch more than the freshmen class of ’03. The margin of victory can be slim. In 1995, for example, the sophomore class of ’98 won by only 2 feet, 10 inches.
“In the 1974 Pull, the freshman class of ’78 and the sophomore class of ’77 reeled in the rope at the gun, threw the first heaves, and broke the rope with ‘power never seen on any pull teams before or since.’ The rope was tied in a knot, put back in the boat, reeled in, and broken again on the first heave. After this, the pull was rescheduled.”
—Brian Stauffer ’78, Holland, Michigan
Since 1909, the sophomores have won a total of 71 times compared to the freshman class’s 33. The last sophomore win was in 2021. The last freshman victory was in 2019.
Since 1909, the even-year class has won a total of 57 times compared to the odd-year class’s 47. The last even year victory was in 2021. The last odd-year victory was in 2019.
The class of 2021 was the last class to win in both its freshman and sophomore years (in 2017 and 2018). A total of 22 classes have won as both freshmen and sophomores: 1914, 1924, 1927, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1943, 1949, 1958, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2011, 2015 and 2021.
Only two classes have won all four Pulls, two as participants and two as coaches: 1934 and 1936.
Bultman Student Center115 East 12th StreetSuite 107Holland, MI 49423