Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I was sitting around the chapter house last night when one of the members popped his head into my room and asked if I wanted to attend tug practice.

"Tug practice?" I asked.
"Yeah, its a huge deal here at Western and we are practicing tonight." He replied.

Not really knowing what I was getting myself into and mostly out of pure boredom I quickly agreed. I am always in for a new experience. I threw on my coat and grabbed gloves and headed out not really knowing what to expect.

The last time I participated in a tug-of-war was in elementary school during field day and I imagined this would be something similar. On the ride out to the field where the chapter practices I asked all kinds of questions.

Here is what I found out (although the answer to most questions was "You will just have to see."
-Tug-of-war is simply known as Tug around here
-Tug is a HUGE deal. Huge. It is an event for points during Greek week here at the University and every fraternity participates
-Tug is nothing like you (or I) can imagine. I thought of a bunch of big guys standing up and pulling on a rope.
-Tug is intense. The event is not until the end of April but these guys will practice Monday throught Thursday from now until then.

We arrived at the field and the temperature was quicly falling. The field was a rather large patch of grass in between several large factories. The field is completely dark except for some ambient light coming from the factories several hundred yeards away. Everyone else begins to arrive and the practice begins with getting the rope out of the car.

The rope is about 2 inches around, over 100 feet long, and takes several guys to lift it out of the back of an SUV. They drag it out into the field which has strange holes all over the place.

Practice begins with what one of the guys calls "kickin' holes." Kicking holes is important because it makes holes that are used as footholds during the actual tug. To begin the eight men on a tug team lay down in a line with one guy's feet a few inches above the head and shoulders of the guy in front of him. They make marks with their heels and then stand up to kick holes. To kick a hole you swing you leg up like you are kicking and then swing your leg down hard, digging your heel into the ground. During the actual competition, teams have 5 minutes to kick holes. The guys here have a goal to kick their holes in three minutes so they have 2 minutes to rest and make sure the holes are aligned.

Once the holes are dug, each guy lays down and puts his feet down in his holes and grabs the rope. Each guy puts the rope under his arm and then firmly grabs it with both hands. The coach tells me that the key to Tug is all technique. The rope goes under the arm because it give each man another place to hold onto the rope.

The match begin with the coach yelling, "READY! READY! READY! ... TUG!) The rope goes taught in an instant and the knot in the middle moves slightly in each direction. Each team also has a set of different tugs (me, in my former ignorance simply thought you just pulled real hard). They are named after different colors and the team has four of five tugs. The tugs vary by which member pulls and in what order they pull. One color (I forget which) means that the guy in the back (the anchor) pushes hard and pulls rope and then each successive tugger in front of him goes. There is also one where it starts at the front of the line as well as mixing and matching.

The tug team practices by scrimmaging the women of a sorority (I was also surprised that the girls get into it, but the sorority they scrimmage with has won the women's event for the last few years). The tug starts and each respective coach is running up and down his or her respctive lines yelling, SQUEEZE! .... SQUEEZE! ... SQUEEZE!

The matchup is five guys versus ten girls and after ten minutes of pulling, the guys have lost over three feet of rope. This is simply unnacceptable to the coach and he huddles the guys and gives a pep talk. "Its gunna hurt guys... Tug is all about heart. Its about who has the most heart and can get past the pain!" (This is a summary. Most of this speech is unrepeatable in this blog).

They give it another go and lose. The process is repeated. Then the guys lose again and the coach shuffles the lineup.

So here I am, in the freezing cold, in the middle of a field, in the dead of night watching people grunt and moan while squeezing and pulling on a rope all while being yelled at by circling coaches. Quite the experience to say the least.

Right about the time I lose feeling in my feet, the girls finsih their practice and leave and the guys head over to "The Pole." At this point I don't think I can be surprised, but I am. The guys tie a rope to a giantic telephone pole and then practice tugging against that. I stand there wanted to yell at the guys, "You realize that the pole will not budge, right?"

The guys practice thier tugs more and grunt and groan their way all while fighting the immovable object. After 20 minutes of agony, the guys are released to go do push ups and situps in the parking lot. On the way back up, the anchor asks about the last exercise they did.

Him: "Hey coach, that last one was funny because the rope wouldn't go anywhere and kept moving up my back"
Coach: "Yeah buddy. Its a pole. It don't give."

I almost lost it right there.

Practice ended after the pushups and situps and I retreated back into a car to try to get warm. It was freezing but I now have a greater appreciation for Tug.