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Spirit & Sports

This student rivalry is about pulling strong together

The tug-of-war connects residents of Park-Stradley for fun and frivolity, and it’s all thanks to a group of dedicated alumni.

A team of young men, at least nine people strong, grimace as they pull with all of their might on a rope in a tug of war contest. The opposing team is out of the frame. The photo itself is black and white, as it was taken in the 1970s. The people’s clothes and hair styles makes that very apparent.

In 1976, Park Hall’s 10th-floor team pulls with everything they’ve got. Their effort paid off, as they were crowned repeat winners. Today, the annual event is known as War of the Ropes. (Photo courtesy of Tim Knox ’77)

Just a few words of lighthearted trash talk in 1974 ignited a competition still going 50 years later. 

There’s a bigger crowd now, but the basics are the same: college students hauling on a stout rope, digging in their heels for tug-of-war bragging rights while surrounded by friends cheering them on. 

The party — complete with music, food and mingling — grew out of the efforts of an alumni group that largely includes former residents of Park Hall, which evolved into Park-Stradley, located off 11th Avenue on south campus. The annual tug has grown to include dozens of teams competing for a cash prize, and the alumni also award a scholarship each year to a Park-Stradley resident. 

It all started back in 1974 after residents of the fifth floor of Park Hall beat the fourth floor in a one-off tug-of-war. One of the winners, Steve Varrone ’79, ran into 10th-floor resident Tim Knox, then president of the Park Hall dorm council, and began bantering about the fifth floor’s prowess. Knox shot back that he wasn’t impressed, and the challenge was on for the spring of 1975. 

This would no longer be a casual affair.  

“The 10th floor was hardcore about this,” says Gordon Kendall ’77, a fifth-floor resident and now of Coshocton, Ohio. “Tim decided he was going to create a juggernaut. And he did.”  

The 10th floor team trained, purchased uniform shirts and wore leather gloves to prevent rope burn. 

The event took on pageantry, kicking off with the national anthem. A PA announcer gave a play-by-play of the event, and tug participant John Corby, who would become a well-known radio personality in the Columbus area after graduating in 1978, recorded a segment introducing participants.  

The 10th floor’s defeat of the fifth floor made the front page of The Lantern under the headline, “‘Taking 5’ proves easy for floor 10.” The reporter described it as “an atmosphere similar to a Saturday afternoon football game.” 

In a rematch the next year, the 10th floor emerged victorious again. 

Overall, it fit well into Knox’s goals as a resident advisor. “How do you build a community? How do you have floor unity? How do you build respect? How do you build, most importantly, friendship?”  

He was successful. Knox ’77 and others maintained strong relationships long after their university days were over. In the early 2000s, some of these friends launched a reunion that brought together a large group of Park Hall alumni, and they’ve kept meeting every year since, traveling from around the country.

Support student leaders

The Park-Stradley Hall Leadership Scholarship Award recognizes students in that residence hall who demonstrate exceptional leadership skills.

To promote the same kind of lifelong bonds among current students, the group decided to start up the old tug-of-war again, and also eventually began collecting money for a scholarship. 

Joe Vallo ’79 of Cincinnati, a former 10th-floor resident, summed up the goal: “It’s important for everybody in a dormitory to get involved, to get to know other people, because you can build friendships that will enrich your life, and they will last forever.” 

The scholarship goes to a student who demonstrates leadership in building community. This kind of involvement takes a lot of effort, Vallo notes. “They’re working hard on classes, but they’re making the effort to go outside of just the classwork and building connections with the people they live with.” 

The tug, now billed as War of the Ropes, seems to be gaining momentum. Recent years have seen an increase in teams, and Knox hopes to bring in neighboring Smith-Steeb Hall. 

The first scholarship winner was Adithya Ramaswami ’23, who participated in the tug as a freshman — “We did not win, but it was a good workout for that morning,” he recalls — and helped organize it as president of the Park-Stradley Council in 2018. 

“I very much enjoyed the event. It brought a lot of spirit amongst the floor residents, and a healthy dose of competition,” he says, calling the competitions memory-making events. “I definitely remember my time in Park-Stradley, freshman, sophomore year, and many of my peers do as well. I would say it’s special.” 

Students don’t just connect with one another, but across generations. Now an alumnus himself, Ramaswami has joined the 1970s alumni in promoting the event and helping to choose a scholarship winner. He’s inspired, he says, by their continued involvement, and struck by the power of alumni giving back. 

“It’s pretty cool to see this tradition get carried on 50 years later,” says Dave Grubbs ’77, a seventh-floor alum who comes from nearby Lewis Center to help referee the event. “I hope it continues for a long time.”

Two lines of people—alumni tug-of-war referees and coordinators and student participants—pose for a photo. The students—the team that won the competition—all bite their medals in a joking manner, as if testing to make sure the metal is real gold.

In 2022, Park-Stradley alumni help celebrate the seventh floor’s win. Last year, the sixth floor was victorious, and in 2021, it was the 10th floor. So domination à la the 10th floor founders is still up for grabs — participants in this year’s event, set for October 4, should take note. (Photo courtesy of Tim Knox ’77)

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