Revitalized Greek Games  return to campus

Shirley Adelson Siegel ’37 can still recite the opening phrase, in Greek, that she issued as the first-year Challenger to the sophomore class during her first Greek Games. “I ran out in a red tunic and a glowing gold cape that flowed behind me,” says Siegel, who found the entire experience “thrilling. The fact that it was an activity that enveloped the whole class was very exciting.”

Rekindling that class spirit and College enthusiasm is what organizers hoped to accomplish with the relaunched Greek Games, held from April 10-12 this spring. “We were talking a lot about ways to build community,” says Jessica Blank ’12, president of McAC. “There was always the question, if Greek Games were so successful a tradition, so beloved, why don’t we do them?”

The tradition, which started in 1903 and lasted through 1967, encompassed an annual springtime competition between the first-year and sophomore classes. The daylong program featured dancing, a chariot race (pulled by students in place of horses), lyric-poetry readings, ancient Greek costumes, as well as athletic events ranging from a torch race and discus throwing to hurdle jumping and hoop rolling.

While there have been sporadic attempts to revive Greek Games in some form since their absence from campus, this is the first year that organizers planned to replicate Greek Games as closely as possible to the campus original. This year’s version embraced many of the same events, although those students who wished to participate did not have to sign up in advance. Some modern additions like “Yoga in a Toga” and “Plato’s Pilates” were included, and activities were open to all classes during a three-day event.

“We had a huge committee of students,” says Jessica Nunez, associate dean for student life. “They were looking to bring traditions back to campus. They were committed to making this happen and making it an all-encompassing event.”

That’s what Greek Games were for Vera Halper Schiller ’38. “It was so involving in our first two years,” recalls Schiller, still proud of her participation as a relay runner as a first-year and her exalted status as a chariot dancer as a sophomore. “The Greek Games were touted as ‘the’ event of the year. We had a level of involvement that made friendships stronger.”

The close connections developed between classmates were a major legacy of the Games. “For me, one of the most important things about the Greek Games was that it was a way for day students to mingle and get to know the dorm students,” says Naomi Loeb Lipman ’51, who served as her class lyric reader, announcer, and a judge as an alumna.

The competition between the first-year and sophomore classes also ignited strong class identification from the beginning. “One reason we were so cohesive is that we won both our first and sophomore years,” says Marjorie Lange ’50, who is delighted that the Greek Games are returning to campus. As an athlete during the Games, Lange was a torch racer, a hoop roller, hurdle jumper, and discus thrower. “I got to meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. This gave us something to do as a class.” Maureen McCann Miletta ’50 agrees, “We won when we were first-years. It was a big bonding issue. We were so proud of ourselves. We’re still very close, and it all stemmed from the Greek Games.”

Organizers hoped to instill that kind of devotion in today’s students. “I was so excited by the return of the Greek Games,” says Lara Avsar ’11, president of SGA. “It was a long time overdue.”

-by Merri Rosenberg '78
-Illustration by Peter Arkle

View pictures from the 2011 Greek Games