Hope’s three most prominent fall student traditions were able to return this year after spending 2020 either canceled or online. First up, the Pull tug-of-war, followed on the next two spreads by the Nykerk Cup competition and Images: A Reflection of Cultures.
Necessity – Virtue
For those familiar with the long-running freshman-sophomore Pull tug-of-war, the smaller headline probably sounds like it could be a Puller-Moraler nickname pairing. (Perhaps it has been.) But making a virtue of necessity is also an apt way to understand this year’s contest, held on Saturday, Oct. 2.
As in 2019, the Even-Year/Odd-Year contest took place along 11th Street between Lincoln and Fairbanks avenues instead of across the Black River. While not the traditional venue, it was better than how 2020 played out, when the pandemic prompted the first cancelation since 1957.
And although the historic, forested, riverine site was missed, it happens that there are advantages to the prominent campus location. The greater accessibility meant that many more people could attend — students, yes, but also a broad array of community members. They dropped in throughout, including after the home football game nearby, with about 1,000 watching at any one time.
Add in bleachers and a food truck (both Pull firsts), and the contest took on the air of a festival.
What didn’t change was the intensity. At 13 apiece, the teams were short of the full complement of 18 on the rope (there were 12 per side in 2019), and for the first time in more than 70 years the sophomores didn’t have the advantage of previous experience. But… the sophomore Class of ’24 and the freshman Class of ’25 did the 124-year tradition proud. Each team locked in and heaved on the rope as a unit, individuals who learned to work together to give their all for a shared goal. The Moralers shouted themselves hoarse. They battled for the full three hours, so closely matched that both sides gained by stretching the rope. And when the horn blew, the outcome wasn’t certain until the judges brought out their tape measures: the sophomores won with a gain of 83 feet, 3 inches.
The Journey Is the Destination
As its name makes clear, the annual freshman-sophomore Nykerk Cup competition is a contest, and invariably one of the two classes emerges the victor. This fall, it was the Odd-Year, freshman Class of ’25.
The spirit of Nykerk, though, is more in the journey than the destination, a sentiment echoed by one of the characters in the sophomore Class of ʼ24 play (“Hope College and the Curious Case of the Stolen Symbols”), who said, “We’re all in this together.” The participants in each class, and their junior and senior coaches, spend weeks devising and perfecting their presentations of Oration, Play and Song, developing friendships and teamwork along the way, and creating an evening of entertainment that transcends notions of who’s winning or losing.
This year’s installment, the 87th, held on Saturday, Oct. 30, also included two returns for the traditional event.
It was, first of all, a return to live in-person presentation. Because of the pandemic, last year’s contest was exclusively virtual and pre-recorded. There had been no on-site audience nor even gathered-as-a-group performance in 2020, with the participants instead filmed individually and presented together through editing.
It was also a return to a former venue. Because the college’s Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse, Nykerk’s home since 2014, wasn’t available this year, the competition relocated to Holland’s Civic Center, which had previously hosted the event every year but one since 1956. (At the same time, the Civic Center was much changed following extensive remodeling between 2016 and 2018.)
The World Stage
Hope’s first international students (in the 1870s) were from Japan, making the high-energy presentation by “Team Japan” an especially fitting way to open the return of Images: A Reflection of Cultures.
That being said, Images is a celebration not of the past but the present, highlighting the rich global breadth of the student body of today. It’s also a labor of love, organized and presented by the college’s international and third-culture students along with peers conversant in the traditions being featured.
This year’s event, held on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Knickerbocker Theatre, featured more than 60 students from a score of nations, bringing the world to Hope through an array of skits, dance, song and other clips of culture and language.