The pullers work on alternate sides of the rope in pits dug along its length, tugging, straining, holding and heaving as their coaches order them. "Heave, men, heave," roared Sophomore Coach Kronemeyer at a practice session last week, and his men stiffened their legs for a mighty pull. "Lock in," he then shouted, and the straining pullers lay down on the rope, holding fast with hands and feet. A few minutes later Ron was calling, "Rock, rock!" and the pullers started inching up the rope with short, tugging movements.
That was the last day of practice. Next day the two teams (18 men apiece) were announced, and the two head coaches (Kronemeyer for the sophs, Chris Plasman for the frosh) were named. The pits were marked off and the 310-foot rope made ready. By Thursday afternoon there wasn't a blanket left in the local Salvation Army store as the morale girls bought them up to cover their charges. The Superior Sport Store on River Avenue sold 304 rolls of tape.
The night before The Pull, almost the entire freshman class (546) turned out to gather round a bonfire, burn an effigy of the class of 1969, drink cider, eat doughnuts and do a snake dance through the town. The sophomore pullers grumbled because their rally the night before had been a dud. "No class spirit," said blonde Morale Girl Ann dinkier. "This class has never had any spirit." But by the morning of The Pull even the lackluster sophomore rooters had caught fire.
Parents and friends drove in from the nearby countryside, and alums appeared, some carrying signs to identify them as old pullers. Faculty members headed out of their offices, and most of the student body—1,672 boys and girls—either hitched a ride or walked to the banks of the Black River. They clustered on both sides of the river, leaning on the snow fences that keep the pullers and morale girls apart from the crowd.
At 4 o'clock a whistle sounded to signal that each team had 15 minutes to dig into the pits. The Pull chairmen laid the rope across the stream and dropped the slack into the middle. The pits were readied with boards and sandbags to keep them from caving in under the pressure of straining legs. Pullers hopped in (the rules prohibit them from getting out until The Pull is over), and morale girls finished cutting long strips of tape.
At last the starting gun sounded, and The Pull began. The opposing coaches stood near the bank, hidden from each other by a wall of blankets so that opponents could not see the plays they called. But spies hidden in trees wigwagged signals across the river. One would place a hand on his head to mean, "Full heave coming," and across the river his team would brace and hold. In answer, the other team would leap to its feet, heave, lie down on the rope and lock in once again.
In just 55 minutes it was over. All 18 freshmen were "popped," i.e., pulled out of their pits, and the sophs had won. Covered with mud and gloom, one completely exhausted freshman sobbed openly as his morale girl tried her best to comfort him. "We'll get 'em next year," she said. It wasn't much comfort. The sophs always win.