A Tug-of-War Tale for the Ages

Wednesday marked the final House games of the school year. It began with the usual bard competition, where the champion poets among us sweetened the humid air-waves with rhyming couplets and practiced gesticulations. Not long after the bards began their pieces, whatever gods that dwelled in the sky at that time began to make their presence known, when, after only a few recitations, dark clouds and chilling winds encircled our campus, rumbling with mixed messages from above. Whether these rumblings were celestial requests for more poetry or less, was unclear, but when the skies finally did burst and thousands of watery darts came falling down, the lower-school was forced to abandon their comfortable amphitheater, fashioned from the green house driveway and grass patch. Soon, booms of thunder cracked, and though the young Green Jays braved the initial roar, it was not long till all, teachers and students alike, fled swiftly to the shelter of Heorot Hall.

One student, a member of the house of the Raven, was shocked that those belonging to the House of Water were fleeing rather than embracing the showering down of their namesake that ensued. “They are afraid of water!” He yelled at the thundering sky, “they should be dancing among this gift, as I am!” The teachers, thinking that this boy from Raven might have become inebriated by the spirit of poetry, leading him to act a bit rashly, ushered him to the nearest shelter and marveled at his boldness.

One might think this stormy weather would surely mark the end of the bard competition for the day, perhaps even the end of the house games as well, but there was no such premature ending; there were no board games, cats-cradle, and cards played in the comfort of the classrooms during the storm, rather, there were two intimate huddles formed in rustic digs of Beorn and Heorot hall, one for the middle school and one for the lower, in the center of which stood the bards, who continued to sing their songs and move their audiences, despite the absence of electrical aids, such as the microphone and speaker.  These bards, standing tall among the rains, stirred the hearts and minds of all who were listening to their tales of yore.

What came afterward were the house-games: Murderball, Bull-Valla, Relay Races, and Thud, games which compelled the boys to beat their chests, strive against one another and dirty their clothes.

“My mom will be so happy I got dirty.” A young third grader informed me. “Why?” I asked, “Because that’s what boys are supposed to do!” When I then pursued this enthusiast with further questions such as: “Are boys supposed to wash the clothes they themselves have dirtied?” and: “Are boys supposed to mend the shirts that have been torn?” he ran away, no doubt thinking I was a bit of a bore.

Once the traditional house games had been completed, and all the young Green Jays were wearied at having battled so fiercely, they began to refresh themselves on the grasses of Klatt field at the front of campus, slaking their thirst with that sweetest of liquids which flows from the push-fountains. While this occurred, one final trial was being prepared, one which would test the strength and will power of students and teachers alike.

The game is an old one, having been played since before men ever began recording events in the annals of their history. When wooly mammoths meandered the firmaments along with man, and when man would attempt to catch this humongous mammal, using its body for most all of his necessities: food, shelter, clothing, art. When man looked for sustenance and could find none but from this animal, this game first came about. Imagine a band of bearded and ill-clad nomads gripping a primitive rope made of plant fibers—or even their own hair—pulling a massive mammoth out of hole where they have trapped it. Imagine the strength and heartiness required to pull and pull, even when no ground is gained and the beast seems made of the heaviest stone. Imagine that, dear readers, and you will see in your mind’s eye, the prototypical game of tug-of-war.

From the start of the tug-of-war that took place on May 23rd, 2018, thousands of years from when our ancestors first played the game out of necessity, the houses were paired up together, two-against-two. On the side closest to Butlercrest road, stood the members of Water and Raven, a noble combination of golds, blue, and black; on the other side stood the earth tones of Green and Shell, not quite as noble looking—reminding one of a patch of grass that had been trampled underfoot—but one that might someday become lovely again, yielding flowers and medicinal herbs. First, the combined third and fourth grade lined up along the rope in the starting position, by fixing their bodies in push-up position and placing their feet upon the rope. After a short count down from ten, the whistle blew and the boys leapt up, swung around, and gripped the rope with all their might: “One-two-pull!” They yelled, “One-two-pull!”

Not long after the sound of the starting whistle sliced through the air, Water and Raven managed to pull the handkerchief tied to the center of the rope over to their side: they had won the first tug.

What came next was the combined fifth and sixth grade matchup, where Water and Raven won again; what followed was a furious coalition of seventh and eighth graders from Shell and Green, who refused to be beaten by the now cocky Water Birds. The whistle blew for the third time that day, and shortly thereafter, Water and Raven finally fell—it was the end of their streak of victory. Green and Shell let out one deep and long roar, happy to have heaved the rope with such vigor, besting their opponents.

From thenceforward things became more interesting. Mr. Hoff, having the power of the megaphone at his disposal, announced to all that the eighth grade and faculty should now line up along the rope. There were two matches such as these, where each side, still split up in the two-house teams, won a bout each. The faculty became invigorated by their entrance into the fray, and both they and the students wanted more. It was then that Mr. Hoff—in a moment of revelry—announced: “All school, all school tug-of-war!” Roars. Roars were what then drowned out the sound of the now measly megaphone, a megaphone that had previously sounded so loudly throughout the day.

Third graders, middle-schoolers and middle-aged men, all lined up as others had been doing throughout each and every game. The fifty-foot rope was covered with a span of over two-hundred souls…

And the countdown began.

“4,3,2,1!” Whistle. The entire body of Western Academy rose up out of push-up position like a thousand surfacing dolphins, and gripped the rope with an intensity seldom seen in the realms of elementary school education.  Grunts of ‘Grrhh!’ and ‘Ahck!’ were made, among other noises which were two involved and passionate to imitate. The muscles of arms, legs, and back were flexed to their utmost, and then…

Everyone was struck down—dumbfounded—as if Zeus had hurled a bolt among us, laughing at our belief that we had outwitted his fury earlier that day. Did Water and Raven earn bragging rights for all days left to come on earth? Or did Raven and Green pull the handkerchief to their side, thus achieving a victory that would diminish the grandeur all previous accolades?

It did not take long for everyone to realize what had happened. With the combined energy and work of all four houses: Water, Raven, Green, and Shell, the students and faculty of Western Academy, defied the very limits of nature herself, they ripped the very fabric of the rope, tearing it asunder. The elderly sinews, twisted and mangled like a gnarled and once mighty tree, sat torn in two.

What happened then was one of the more stirring events this humble scribe has seen since coming upon this Academy. All tuggers, young and old, raised up their arms and clenched fists to the skies, which on this day had tried to foil a school which had clearly defied the limits of nature herself, all displayed that unmistakable sign of pride and victory over a foe, who they had forgotten was even in the arena.

Raven embraced Shell, and Water Green. The faces of all were wearing a look of immanent satisfaction. Nothing remained of the toils of the day, for all had conquered.

Adam Thompson