DID you ever see a "cane rush"? It is not altogether new; for when the Greek boys of the Twenty-third Olympiad - twenty-five hundred years and more ago - tugged and struggled for the mastery in the game of strength and muscle known to them as the pancra-tium, they were but striving for the prize of the wild olive wreath in a rough and tumble game which, centuries later, was to reappear in what is known in certain American colleges as the "cane rush."
All athletic sports have in them a certain element of danger; all of them, pushed to extremes, may degenerate into brutality. The deadly pitching of the base-ball field, the "slugging" of many a football match, have again and again brought discredit upon those noble tests of strength and skill. But the gentleman cannot be a brute; and if but the demands of courtesy and manliness are kept ever in view, no field sport, however exciting, however risky, or however absorbing, need ever pass that border line that separates chivalry from brutish-ness.
A cane rush may be reduced to a brutal level, and become dangerous to the participants. But when planned upon a manly athletic basis, and controlled by the spirit of friendly rivalry, it is, perhaps, one of the most exciting contests adopted by the restless college "men." When participated in along the lines of courtesy and courage, it enlists a Spartan element of honor. It is regarded as a duty which no loyal class member would think of shirking. It cements a class union that otherwise would never be formed, enthusiastically contributed to by the many secret meetings, private conferences, and careful "pointers" that precede the day of contest.
Let me describe for you a cane rush in a certain college, where brutality is frowned down, and the boys can be gentlemen even in the heat of conflict.
It is the battle for supremacy between Sophomores and Freshmen - the class of '94 and the class of '95. And the sign of supremacy, to be borne away by the victors, is the conquered cane.
The time at last has arrived - a cool fall day.. The combatants are full of pluck and determination. After class hours the rendezvous of the collegians is the green field not far away - a piece of turf still famous as the scene of a deadly encounter between two rival American statesmen.
The field is thronged with spectators. Here are representatives of the alumni, the professors, the friends, the brothers, the fathers, and a goodly sprinkling even of gray-haired grandfathers.
The Sophomores have had the advantage of experience. The year preceding they, as Freshmen, fought the "Sophs" - the Juniors of to-day. This apparent disadvantage under which the Freshmen enter the contest generally turns the sympathy of the spectator to them, so that they become the centre of attraction, being the new blood of the contest.
The arena, or battle-ground, is a rectangular plot one hundred feet in length, with its outer lines marked and guarded by stakes and rope. A well-sodded part of the field is generally chosen. Across the centre of the enclosure a chalk-line is drawn. The cane is a strong, smooth, rounded stick, about five feet in length, and from an inch and a half to two inches in diameter.
Judges chosen from the alumni are detailed to see that neither kicking nor striking an opponent takes place; they are also to decide the final count of hands remaining on the cane at the call of "time." A "hand" is three fingers, or two fingers and the thumb; both hands of one party on the cane is counted as two hands. A kick or blow decided against a class member is a forfeit of "one hand" at the final count - a serious penalty.
Signals are given by pistol-shots from the starter: first shot, "make ready;" second shot, "charge;" third shot, "withdraw." Five minutes is allowed between the second and the third shot.
The contestants are the Sophomores and the Freshmen; the former are the challengers.
The men are divided into five sections for special work: the Gladiatorae, or centres, who hold the cane; the Robustae, or strongest men; the Avelli, or "pullers;" the Salturae, or "jumpers;" and the Palaestrae, or "wrestlers."
"Time is up!" announces the starter. Out from the dressing-room of the club-house come the chal-lengers, the "class of '94," marching under the leadership of its captain, who ranges his men at the northerly line of the arena, forming his line with the strength in the centre, and graduating it down to the "light weights" at the extreme ends. The "class of 95" next marches out, and in similar manner is lined up at the extreme south end, ranged according to strength.
The Gladiatorial Holding the Cane.
The costume donned for the fray presents a gladiatorial effect; every man is stripped to the waist; the exposed parts have been rubbed thick with vaseline to produce a slippery surface that a grip will not hold. The palms of the hands are heavily coated with resin to overcome, in a measure, the greased skin. Out from under the greasy gloss is outlined in yellow, on the chest and back, the class number, " '94 " or " '95," marked large and distinctly with iodine. It is a "flesh-mark" of identification, as class members are not always recognizable. The heaviest and strongest of trousers are worn buckled tightly around the waist by inside strapping, twine lashing the trousers at the feet around well-greased strong shoes that will not break. Every means is adopted to prevent the advantage of obtaining a "hold."
The Palestrae Wrestling for Time.
First shot: "Make ready."
The "centres," two of the strongest men from each class, take a position on each side of the chalk line. The cane, after examination, is handed them by one of the judges; immediately the eight hands twist and slide around its surface to get a lasting grip.
Then the class "yell" goes up from the contestants, who now drop into a foot-racer's position and await the word "go!" Each man sights the cane and their "stalwarts" who are holding it, and inwardly vows to do his best.
Second shot: " Charge!"
And a hundred young men cover the distance of fifty feet in a twinkling, and come together with a crash and crush, taking down to the ground, almost unseen, the "centres," burying them three to four deep - each "unseen" reaching desperately, straining every muscle to wedge his hands down to the cane and maintain a grip.
Appearing like some immense octopus whose tentacles are human legs, this live mass of humanity surges, oscillates, wriggles, writhes, and struggles. Around its outer edge the "pullers" are active, as they reach into the pile and grab a leg or legs, and with a "long pull and a strong pull" drag out a powerless wight, and fling him out into the field, where the "wrestlers" interlock and down him, keeping their hold to the last. The outer field is besprinkled with these wrestlers, each with his man in tight embrace - a realistic representation of the dead gladiators of the Coliseum, for in fact dead they are to a chance of having a "hand" on the cane.
The squirming mass, head rubbing head, keeps up its straining; the "pullers" still haul out their victims and lessen the pile. Then new muscle enters the contest. With a run and spring high over the mass, headlong down into the central pit of heads, dive the "fliers," and working their way . through by squeezing out the most exhausted, thrust their hands to a fresh hold of the coveted cane.
The Supreme Struggle in the Centre.
"Three-quarters of a minute yet," remarks a bystander. It has seemed an age since that last shot. Not a word is heard from the strugglers; there is a bottling of all the reserve air in the lungs. Grunts and puffs are the only exhibit of breathings; the centre fairly steams from the perspiring mass.
Bang! the third shot.
The struggle ceases and the living mound dissolves; the upper tier is disentangled, the second strata backs off carefully, the third layer is rolled off, and then the judges, demanding stillness, note the names of the victors who hold the "mark of three" that counts for his class. Swathed with perspiration and dirt, with back tatooed by scratches of button or shoe, and face etched with finger-nail or pebble, one by one the rushers are picked up and led to quarters, proudly passing inspection, and displaying their battle scars and ragged raiment.
The judges announce the score. It stands, "thirteen hands for '94," and "sixteen hands for '95." The crowd shouts its approval; loud and strong is given the class yell of '95; and '93 (the Juniors), who back the winners, echo the Fresh yell with their own.
It is the first victory for a Freshman class in the history of the college.
The victory gives the privilege to the Freshmen to carry a cane for a year, and denies it to the Sophomores for the same period. The buttonhole in the lapel of the coat of each Freshman the next morning sarcastically carries to class a miniature cane, and each man expresses a desire to see a Soph walking with a cane, that he can exercise his battle-won privilege of breaking it.
When the next fall comes around, the Freshman of to-day becomes the "Soph" of to-morrow, and must again fight over the cane to maintain the supremacy he has won. A rough and tumble game, do you say? I grant it; but, as I said at the outset, a cane rush, when "rushed" by young gentlemen who can keep their heads cool and their hearts friendly, however may go the day, is able to be carried out, from start to finish, along the lines of courtesy and courage.
BY MALCOLM TOWNSEND.