Lehigh celebrates Le-Laf with lasting traditions


In anticipation of the 151st Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry football game, the Lehigh community is rallying together with a variety of Spirit Week traditions, both formal and informal. The week’s official festivities kicked off Nov. 12 with the 59th annual Turkey Trot race and will last through the rivalry football game on Saturday.

The Lehigh community is known for its long-standing traditions such as bed races, the Turkey Trot, and Eco-flame, all of which are unique to South Mountain. In addition, much of the campus community also partakes in a host of informal social gatherings in the week leading up to the big game.

“There’s a wide variety of events that are happening during Spirit Week and the idea is to engage as many members of the Lehigh community as possible, so there’s really something for everyone,” said Emily Okrepkie, ’18, student spirit chair of the Association of Student Alumni.

This year’s Spirit Week included entertainment such as bed races and the Lehigh Laf-Appella concert, as well as several athletic events, including the men’s and women’s basketball home openers, the final volleyball match of the season and a wrestling match. Rich Haas, assistant athletic director for sales and marketing, said that participation in these events by students, alumni, faculty and staff helps to build school spirit.

The Spirit Week committee includes the Association of Student Alumni, Student Senate, Athletics, the Panhellenic Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, Interfraternity Greek Council, University Productions and class officers. This group collaborates to create the schedule for the week and capitalize on the energy and excitement around campus. According to Casey Sharkey, associate director of student philanthropy, the goal of the spirit committee is to get people engaged in events and bring the campus together around the common goal of school spirit.

“Spirit Week evolves year to year based on the students that are involved and what they see value in, in terms of event,” Haas said, “but there are some events that have been staples of Spirit Week for a very long time — things like the Turkey Trot, bed races, the pep rally.”

The pep rally is a longstanding tradition that has evolved over the years, Haas said. This year, it was held during halftime at the men’s basketball home opener at Stabler Arena. In the past, it has taken such forms as the Lehigh-Lafapalooza concert and a bonfire on the Front Lawn.

The bed race tradition originally began as a Greek Week event, where engineering students would test their ingenuity by constructing beds and racing them down the side of South Mountain. After being halted for a few years due to safety concerns, the tradition was revived by the class of 2010. Last year, in anticipation of the 150th rivalry game festivities, Brian Slocum, director of the Wilbur Powerhouse and design labs, introduced redesigned robust steel-framed, welded beds with steering wheels to further enhance the bed race experience.

“It’s been an event that definitely has modernized over the years,” Sharkey said. “The nice thing is, this year, and for years going forward, those beds are more sustainable, too, so we can use those year after year.”

The Turkey Trot, a 2.6-mile running race and fun walk through campus, has been taking place for 59 years. Students, professors and faculty members race from the Packer Memorial Church, up to the Hill and back to the UC Front Lawn.

The Marching 97’s Eco-flame tradition began in the 70s, when professor Rich Aaronson complained that the band had not played loud enough at his retirement party. In response, band members decided to interrupt his Friday economics class, and the hijinks became a hit. Each year, on the Friday before the rivalry game, the band marches around campus, in and out of classrooms, dining halls and campus buildings, serenading the campus community with fight songs and amping students up for the big game with their “psyche.”

According to football player Derek Knott, ’16, the football team also has several Spirit Week traditions. For example, during their last practice the Thursday before the game, the offensive and defensive players switch jerseys. In addition, the Marching 97 comes to the practice and serenades the team with fight songs.

Many of the team’s Lehigh-Laf traditions are geared towards the seniors. On Friday, they attend a dinner held in Iacocca Hall with alumni who have attended 50 or more games, many of whom are former football players.

“It’s a really good tradition to see how heavy this game is, how many people were really involved with this rivalry,” Knott said.

Changes in Spirit Week traditions over the years can be attributed to a variety of causes, such as safety concerns or the changing culture of what students find fun and interesting.

Haas said that one of the newest elements that has enhanced Spirit Week is social media.

“In the past, you had to be present to experience some of these traditions,” Haas said. “Now alumni all over the country — all over the world, really — can connect from anywhere and relive that experience.”

In addition to the Spirit Week traditions organized by the university, students also find many other ways to celebrate the big game. Many students host a variety of social gatherings in the week leading up to Le-Laf.

“I feel like this rivalry is so cool and it’s different — you have all these people, mostly alumni, who are ingrained in the culture of the rivalry, and you have all the young people who are into the party scene,” Knott said. “Both of these sides come together.”

Haas, who has been at Lehigh for 15 years, said that many alumni say that the rivalry game is one of their most memorable Lehigh experiences.

“There’s been tons of memories in terms of the actual game, but my lasting memory is always just a campus that is really buzzing with excitement leading up to the game,” Haas said, “And just tons of school pride, being part of such a special tradition that no one else can claim, which is the most-played rivalry in college football.”

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