First-years engage in tradition, steal banners

Since before their JAs can remember, first-years at the College have united with their entries over the time-honored tradition of banner stealing. Banners represent each of 24 frosh entries on campus; nearly all were visible during First Days in a multitude of displays. Graceful flags fluttered from high windows in many first-year dorms; among the more extravagant works were a stuffed cow, a colorful pinwheel, and an amalgamation of concrete, chains and iron.

On the evening of Sept. 2, banners became fair game in a contest between entries to collect as many as possible while guarding their own. During that night and the following days, many entries gained immediate reputations for honor, ingenuity and idiocy. Edgy freshmen all over campus bonded with their entrymates during these raids. Said Kevin Kingman, ’05 of Williams B, “It was our unity thing.”

Amid the chaos many banners survived intact. One notable banner lost four legs and handfuls of stuffing. Kingman, whose entry was responsible for the mutilation and hanging of a stuffed cow banner representing Sage D, reminisced about his entry’s first night at Williams. “We were shocked and chagrined,” he said, when Sage D swiped his entry’s banner on the first evening.

Driven by a First Night adrenaline rush, members of Williams B stormed Sage D to retaliate. According to Kingman, the ladies toilet-papered the inside while the guys watched one entrymate climb the outside of the building to reach the cow. Upon reaching it, the perpetrator grabbed the cow four times without successfully pulling it down. “Purely by accident the cow was legless,” said Kingman. According to Sage D JA Jessica Katz ’03, “Not only did they steal [our banner]—they killed it!”

When the group returned to Williams B, the revelry continued. In a bizarre turn of events, members of the entry, aided by one JA, used the cow’s cotton entrails to paint a sign reading, “Don’t f— with Willy B,” which they proudly displayed.

However, banner stealing is a fickle practice. Within hours, members of Morgan East had seized the profane sign, as well as several other banners. “It’s all about teamwork,” said C.J. Bak ’05 of his entry. “It’s all about displaying the banners,” pointed out another member of Morgan East. During First Days, Morgan East proudly displayed chains of stolen banners out windows that overlook Spring Street. While many of the banners were notable, it was the notorious Willy B sign that caught the eye of Security. Security has since confiscated the flag.

Nevertheless, members of Morgan East claim a greater amount of honor than their counterparts in other dorms due to their willingness to display captured banners, rather than hiding them in closets and behind locked doors.

It was this boldness that allowed Bynum Hunter ’05 and an entrymate to recapture a banner representing East 3 from Morgan. These two were particularly resourceful; after discovering their banner hanging from a Morgan JA’s window, they used the absent JA’s Swiss Army knife to slice the banner in half when they could not pull the flag down in one piece. Hunter claims he was attacked by women from Morgan East while recovering the banner, exposing a violent aspect of the banner stealing tradition also evidenced by the now defunct cow banner.

While efforts to steal and recover banners are usually awkward and often ridiculous, some entries used cunning tactics to win other entries’ flags. Rumors abound that Williams E won the motherlode of banners before most entries ever glimpsed their own; pictures are displayed on the common room walls to commemorate the entry’s greatest moments. But Williams D and Morgan E exploited Williams E’s overconfidence, easily snatching the booty from the common room of an unsuspecting E.

Fayerweather 1 had a seemingly flawless plan. Their banner, wrought of welded iron and chained to cinder blocks, was fastened to a tree in the Odd Quad. In Morgan East, Ross Smith ’05 busied himself collecting tools with his eager entry. “We attacked [the banner] with the tools and nothing was working,” Smith said. Through an inexplicable method of twisting certain metal parts of the banner until they broke, members of Morgan East successfully freed Fay 1’s sign from the tree and made off with it, cinderblocks and all. “That was a feat of engineering,” Bak said.

And beware those who would steal a banner from Sage B. “It’s booby trapped,” warned Jay Ross ’05. His entrymates somberly nodded in agreement.

Inter-dorm treachery lurks in Sage E and F. Sage E stole Sage F’s banner at a vulnerable moment, and then returned it when their entry had a change of heart. However, their banner is currently unaccounted for, and Sage F seems rather smug about the whole matter.

After scaring one banner thief out the window, Ben Himowitz ’05 of Fay 2 actually saved the overzealous first-year from jumping to the ground from the second story. “I mean, dude, it’s just a banner,” Himowitz said in disbelief.

Entry JA’s vary wildly on their level of participation in banner stealing activities. Mike Ebell ’03 of Williams B said “I feel it’s very important to let the freshmen do the banner stealing; it’s a freshman experience.” However, Dave Morris ’03 of Fay 3 has become revered amongst the members of his entry for his daring tactics; “Dave runs like the wind,” breathed Adam Kollender ’05, his eyes lit with admiration.

It’s not surprising that some JAs regret losing banners they slaved over last summer. “We spent so much time with it. . .you almost killed yourself putting it up,” Hal Kronsburg ’03 said to fellow JA Morgan Steiner. “A lot of sweat went into that banner,” said Deidre Fogg ’03 to her group. “You guys should go out and find it.” Members of that entry didn’t look up from their card game.

So why the apathy when many entries’ common rooms walls have a conspicuously blank spot where a banner should hang? Or when a torn up flag is forgotten, stuffed into someone’s sweater shelf? “It got old,” Omar Taveras ’05 explained simply. An anonymous Fay 1 person expanded on that reasoning. “I’m not going to lie; it was fun to do it. Just like tag and playing cooties, it had its time, and now it’s over.”

However, unfulfilled JAs and entrymates should not despair. Many banners are in a frosh dorm not so far away, waiting to be recaptured and hung in that hallowed spot on the common room wall.