The Le-Laf Rivalry football game between the Lehigh University Mountain Hawks and the Lafayette College Leopards is the most-played football rivalry and longest uninterrupted rivalry series within the United States, at least until Monday, July 13, 2020.
The rivalry game has been played 155 times with one singular pause in 1896, with its most recent meeting in November 2019.
This past Monday, the Patriot League announced that fall sports for the 2020 season would not be played this upcoming semester due to the escalating concerns surrounding coronavirus and team safety.
While Lehigh is not particularly known for being an overtly spirited athletic campus, the entire community spanning from students to faculty to South Bethlehem residents take part in Rivalry Week traditions, including cheering on the Mountain Hawks the second-to-last Saturday in November each year.
From Bed Races, to banner making, to the Marching 97 walking in to your 10 a.m. recitation the Friday before the game, many of Lehigh’s most cherished traditions are centered around the annual rivalry match and are arguably some of the most trademarked events of one’s Lehigh experience.
Something that is mentioned repeatedly throughout campus tours and admission re-visit days is the intense competition between the two teams and the distinct experiences that make up Lehigh’s athletic heritage.
Given the fact that athletics are not at the core of most Lehigh students’ undergraduate life, it is remarkable that a singular football game is able to be part of what it means to be a Mountain Hawk, even decades after graduation.
It’s safe to say that the cancellation of fall sports impacted the entirety of the Lehigh community, and it hit hard. With all the changes brought about over the past five months during the pandemic and the confusion surrounding re-opening our campus for the fall semester, Mountain Hawks across the board were looking forward to some type of normalcy to be excited for down the line.
In a similar vein, this decision deeply impacts our student-athletes and their undergraduate experience when returning to campus. This applies not just to fall athletes whose competitive seasons have come to a halt, but also to student athletes overall.
Like collegiate athletes nationwide, Lehigh student athletes’ lives are centered around the sport in which they play. They practice over 20 hours a week, condition with athletic trainers and bond with a strong group of like minded individuals with a common goal. They worked day and night in high school to stand out among their peers and live their dream playing the game they love at Lehigh.
Most teams have mandated study hours in which the entire team does school work together in order to maintain a balance between their practices and academics and adhere to their incredibly busy campus lifestyle.
While these activities are not completely canceled at this point in time, they most definitely will look different than they have in years past and these members of the Lehigh community need to have a strong support system in order to adjust to those changes once we are back at school.
Lehigh Campus Athletics also recently made the same call to suspend all fall club sport activities.
We knew life at Lehigh would not look like it has in years’ past. But these realities regarding sports hit like a punch in the gut. The new normal we feared, and for some of us refused to accept, has been solidified.
While there have yet to be any finalized decisions on what academic instruction and campus activity will look like in the upcoming weeks, we are slowly starting to get an image of what’s to come.
While there may not be a Le Laf rivalry game to attend, a Parent’s Weekend tailgate, the familiar late nights cramming for 4 o’clock exams in FML or the ability to race to get onto your favorite treadmill at Taylor Gym after you last class of the day, we are still all Mountain Hawks. We have the spirit and drive to persevere in all areas across campus and beyond, however different it may be this fall.
As some traditions may be fading as we alter our campus life to a new normal, we also have the ability to create new ones and shape what it’s like to be a Mountain Hawk amidst unprecedented times.