House Football Sacked – America’s Oldest Active Football League Radically Changed

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After 124 seasons, The Lawrenceville School House Football League, the longest continuously running tackle football league in America, underwent drastic changes. At the start of practice on Thursday Director of Athletics Michael Goldenberg announced  that instead of the traditional full contact tackle football, the League will now be playing flag football. This flag football will have the same basic elements except for the fact that contact has been removed.  Now instead of tackling, players will pull a flag draped around the opponent’s waist in order to end the play. The physical element of blocking will also likely be removed.

Many teams were frustrated, and shortly after hearing the news the entire Hamill House football team walked off the field in protest. Moreover, immediate notes of objection came in from students across the School, accusing the administration of ending an institution as old at the House system itself without any consultation from students.

Related: Letters to the Editor on House Football

In an interview, Goldenberg stated that this decision was made as a result of a decrease in participation this year in the League. By playing tackle football there is a risk for injuries. If a number of injuries were to occur many teams would not have the eight-player minimum needed to form a team. Last year this became a problem as one house was forced to forfeit its final game.

The decision was made quite rapidly as Head Master Liz Duffy H’43 explained that “[Goldberg] and I made the decision about this year. Then we told the housemasters that we will have a discussion after we see what happens this year about what’s going to happen long term. All we’re trying to do is get through this season.” Duffy also recognized the eroding participation in House football as a reason for the change saying, “most of the teams didn’t have enough members to play.” Currently two houses, Kennedy and Cleve, have only eight eligible players. “People are voting with their feet,” said Duffy simply.

The Head Master brought up larger concerns about the institution House Football and its impact on campus life. “What we do worry about is that boys in the house will feel pressured to play House Football, and frankly I don’t worry about that as much if it’s flag football because there’s not the same level of danger.”

Related articles: Response to House Football Editorial

Many unresolved issues have emerged from this decision, the foremost of which is how the winner  of  The Crutch, The Muffler, and The  Pride of the Circle will be decided.

There is also the issue of concussions and their cumulative effects Goldenberg stated. “Times have changed, we know more about the science of the brain now than we did 20 years ago.”

The sentiment from house players was clear. The majority are in favor of continuing to play tackle football, and many current players are threatening to boycott practice. Upon hearing the decision, III former A.J. Ryan ’16 commented, “House football was one of the reasons I decided to come to Lawrenceville,” and he went on to say, “when I come back for alumni weekend, I want to be able to say that I helped save one of Lawrenceville’s greatest traditions.” Current House coach Will Christoffersen ’14 expressed his concerns lamenting, “thus the oldest football league in the nation has been reduced to a elementary school gym class.”

Former Cleve House member Jack Sheridan ’14  echoed similar sentiments saying, “House Football runs in our blood.  Football is a sport that comes with the liability of getting injured. It is disappointing for them to take away a sport that has had so many successful seasons and is such an integral part of my experience at Lawrenceville.” By late Thursday night, at least one Facebook page entitled “Bring Back House Football” had already been created in opposition to the changes made to the program. As of 12:30am on Friday the page had over 800 likes and is steadily gaining traction.

Read up on the latest in the House Football conversation

  • David Blackman `12 says:

    This is an absurd decision that will alienate alumni and students. I am appalled. Good luck getting a single alumnus to donate anything to this school after this.

  • Rick Zullo '03 says:

    This is a travesty. Be more careful about injuries, rather than kill out traditions. This is an institution and will rob current and future alumni of one of principle offerings that makes Lawrenceville distinct. Shocked and appalled that the school would make such a terrible decision.

  • Juan eustace says:

    I certainly agree. House football is a tradition which must not be swept under the rug. And yes, this decision will affect my donation schedule and generosity.

  • Maurice Hakim '66 says:

    I was not a ‘jock” but I did play several House sports including House football along with at least 15 other Kennedy men. It was for the pride of Kennedy as well as for playing a part in upholding a long, cherished tradition. There were times, as a III Former, I froze on the sidelines waiting anxiously for the chance to play. Maybe that toughened me up. Strengthened would be a more appropriate word today. This was one part of the unique Lawrenceville experience.

    Many of Lawrenceville’s great traditions continue to crumble since it went co-ed. This is just another tragic piece of fallout from the PC ethos that has permeated our culture since the late 1980′s and, I dare say, contributed to the emasculation our young men. Call it what you will; but when I see long held traditions thrown into the dust bin of history, it makes me puke. I recognize that some policy changes have been necessary but I am fed up with the many changes made by the Lawrenceville administration that, aside from this one, have cow-towed to political correctness and, in general, to the ‘sissiification’ of its young men

  • Charles Gallagher says:

    This is sickening. Lawrenceville’s greatest attributes are its traditions, and to eliminate perhaps the school’s most cherished one brings shame to my alma mater.

  • Judith Tredway says:

    House Football has been an integral part of Lawrenceville history for son long. The Faculty Wives of the fifties made the first united stand of women at a House game. They all put on slacks and walked over to the games. An unheard of act of brashness. “Faculty Brats” joyfully attended the games to see their favorite “Big Boys” play.
    Treds loved all the games but the “Crutch Game” was the epitome of sport at Lawrenceville. So long another bit of “Old School”.

  • John Kelsey, III '65 says:

    When I first heard about this, I thought it was the earliest ever V Form prank. But no, it appears to be serious, and it is sad for our great school. Look at alternatives…for instance, 5 man tackle football is better than flag football.
    The house system, like the Harkness tables, is part of the Lawrenceville experience. The house system is built on common experiences and shared challenges. For boys, house football is like basic training in the Army or initiation into a fraternity. It is hard, but you remember it for the rest of your life. House spirit is very real, and football is part of that spirit.
    To this day, the first question I am asked when I meet a fellow Lawrentian is “what house were you in?” I am always proud to say Dawes, and Chuck Weeden was my Housemaster and coach.
    Please administrators, reconsider. This is a big decision that should only be made after understanding all of the ramifications.

  • Mike Cortina '04 says:

    The school has undergone a complete transformation in the past 5 to 10 years, such that importance of athletics in a well-rounded high school education has been completely marginalized in favor of music, art, and self expression.

    My fondest memories of Lawrenceville were created through sports. Nothing brings a school community closer that watching their football, lacrosse, basketball, or baseball/softball teams win a championship against a rival. I ask you, to what extend does a music recital or art show enrich school spirit? House football games used to attract an equally sized (if not larger) student fan base than Varsity Football Games! How else can you bring a student body closer? I have nothing against a student’s right to express themselves through their own methods, but INDIVIDUAL activities do not bring a school together like a team sport!

    If the real issue is not being able to field a team, then I’m quite confused. What happened to the required athletic credit for each trimester? If students would rather obtain an excuse from their athletic requirement each trimester to pursue individual passions, then the admissions expectation and curricular requirement of a well rounded student-athlete (athlete to any degree) has been eliminated altogether. Students should not feel “pressured” to play house football, they should want to participate in a 124-year old School tradition that brings their house together, enriches their experience, and creates some of the best memories of their high school years. Football is not dangerous, football is healthy.

    The alternative explanation is that there are just too many Varsity athletes in the fall semester, but that is a highly doubtful explanation.

    This is one of the many diseases plaguing our school, this WILL alienate alumni donations. My children will not go to a school that doesn’t recognize the benefit of sports and school traditions that make a community what it is.

    Disgusting.

  • Randall Otis '11 says:

    I don’t understand the logic at all. If they’re worried about concussions then why allow varsity football (or other contact sports) to continue? If students really are voting with their feet then why make top down changes rather than just allow students to make choices themselves? A few years of decline in participation isn’t automatic evidence of a general change interests. On a long enough time scale (124 years is long enough) it’s reasonable that there will be fluctuations in interest of almost any activity.
    As a former prefect, I can’t see any good reason of removing or watering down this game that was crucial in bringing the members of my house together and having a sense of history and pride, both those who played and those who didn’t. Any downsides that came with the existence of house football were certainly outweighed by the positive returns.

  • Christopher Costantini '10 says:

    This decision is obviously ridiculous and only the latest in the long line of mind-numbingly idiotic and Nancy Thomas-esque changes made to unreasonably alter and complicate the traditions of the School. At the same time, Mr Hakim’s hyperbolic obsession with the “sissification” and “emasculation” of the boys of the school begs its own scrutiny. As in this particular gentleman’s case, questions of masculinity and gender insecurity weren’t precipitated nor accelerated by co-education (or even this absurd decision) but rather by fundamental feelings of physical and sexual inadequacy that confront many boarding school boys of the athletic set.

  • Response to Hakim '66 by Jordan Silverman '10 says:

    When asked about my educational trajectory, I tell each person I meet that “Lawrenceville provided me with a better education than I’ve received at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania.” It’s true – I’m lucky to be in an interesting, academically-charged program that has facilitated my academic career – both abroad and at home. However, my years at Lawrenceville leave disappointed when I find, time and again, that the level of discourse in this competitive Ivy League program falls below the levels intellectual engagement I learned to expect in the Lawrenceville classroom.

    This is why I found myself appalled by the comments made by Maurice Hakim ’66.

    Hakim laments the loss of “great traditions” at Lawrenceville. I’d ask him to point out which ones – academic excellence? Commitment and dedication? Perhaps over the years, practices – distinct from traditions – have left our repertoire. It may behoove Hakim to remember that Lawrenceville is 200 years old, and the way in which one might achieve these traditions in 2013 looks very different than it did in 1810.

    Let’s examine these traditions, shall we? The defining traditions of Lawrenceville since its foundation 1810 have been academic excellence, a strong sense of community and development from a child into an adult. In order to stay intellectually competitive, it is unthinkable that woman should not be equally represented in the classroom. Despite the basic justice of a co-ed system, study after study shows that bringing women into an all-male classroom or workforce heightens the level of scholarship and achievement. As would also result from bringing men into an all-female environment. If we, as a community, are to lament any part of our co-ed history, it should be that we were too naive to admit women earlier, not that this change began a “crumble” of the community.

    As a prefect, I was intensely connected to building a strong sense of community at Lawrenceville. There has been a surprising lack of attention given to the fact that the houses in 2013 were largely unable to bring more than 8 players to the field in any given season. This tells me that men and women on campus are finding ways to build community in different ways – be it through other sports or extra-curriculars. Perhaps House Football no longer serves to strengthen a sense of community as it once did. The struggle current students and faculty have to face is whether to recreate House Football as a basis for community building or to pinpoint another outlet that can bring students together.

    Finally, Lawrentians enter as children and leave as adults. Parents: you are lucky. Students: you are lucky. In 2013, when you or your children leave Lawrenceville, the definition of what it means to be a “man” and what it means to be a “woman” is at its broadest in history. Hakim’s antiquated views of masculinity and what it means to be a man are, thankfully, in the minority. Men – and women – should certainly value strength. True strength, the strength that I was taught by my teachers and peers and coaches at Lawrenceville, comes from my ability to persist. I was taught to be strong of mind, strong of heart, and strong of spirit. The strong men I know were not strong because of their prowess on the field but because they challenged norms, stood up for what they believed in, and were unafraid to be themselves unabashedly.

    The strongest person I know at school was the only in the community at the time to “come out.” Jack Goddu ’10 was perhaps best known for his intense love of cars and outlandish fashion choices. What this means is he was known for his strength. His unbelievable strength of character to be the only openly gay student on campus. His strength of self conviction to express himself to his fullest – even when it was met with rolled eyes or blatant homophobia. I realized that I was gay in my final year at Lawrenceville, but did not have the strength to express it. Instead, I cried on the phone to the strongest person I knew – Jack. In this respect, the community failed to give me the strength to discover who I was.

    This is one example of the type of strength Lawrenceville should, and has begun to, foster. Strength to look internally at the questions we do not want to answer. Strength to push our academic and intellectual selves to the brink. Strength to be different and strength to embrace difference.

    Hakim notes, “[strength] was one part of the unique Lawrenceville experience.” If Hakim and his classmates want to continue to be strong, it is imperative that they learn to embrace strength in all its forms.

  • Chris Cortina '05 says:

    What has happened to this school? Administrators who allowed this to happen should be ashamed of themselves. This school has lost the character and tradition which made Lawrenceville such an incredible place.

    The culture you are attempting to breed here does not exist in the real world. The kids coming out of Lawrenceville will not stand a chance in the real world if you continue to “protect” them and deny them opportunity to be young boys and girls.

    Guess what: high school kids fight, they get hurt, they get their feelings hurt- and they learn from it! Now that John Simar is gone this school doesn’t stand a chance.

    Pathetic. Someone needs to step up here.

  • Edward Cummings '07 says:

    This is disgraceful. I played Varsity Football and was in Hamill House and, although I did not play it, House Football greatly enriched my experience on campus and helped turn what would otherwise be just a dormotory into a Lawrenceville House with a real sense of pride and community that generations of men carry with them for the rest of their lives.

    I don’t understand this decision at all. House football is one of our oldest and most beloved traditions. The current Administration seems to be doing its best to remove eveything that makes Lawrenceville a unique place that is loved by so many alumni.

  • Al Sullivan says:

    What a disgrace.

    A temporary dearth of players – less than the requisite 8 for a complete squad – is nothing new (which is to say nothing of the fact that it is a completely addressable problem). Our ’94 Kennedy team had only 9 members and we still fielded a very competitive team. When we lost two of our players to (minor) injury, another team offered to lend us players to fill out our squad. This solution, rather than stripping the game of its essence, seems a much more measured response to what are surely temporary challenges. And any solution to preserve the tradition we all cherished would be better that what has already been effected. We might just as well have a House Knitting League instead.

    Ms. Duffy – You say that “students are voting with their feet,” yes? Without any substantial evidence to support that claim, it seems a rather sweeping generalization. Or better yet, the conclusion you wish to draw from a disparate set of facts/data (and probably the conclusion you’ve wished to draw all along). Well, we alumni may not vote with our feet, but we do in fact vote with our dollars. I would expect a serious outcry on this matter.

    Sincerely,

    Al Sullivan

  • David Stewart '98 says:

    Frankly, I’m surprised this decision took so long to reach. The terrible and permanent consequences — especially on adolescents — of repeated small concussions induced by tackle football is now well understood. Perhaps it’s worth taking that risk if you think you have a shot at a football scholarship. But house football at Lawrenceville is the default athletic option – unless things changed since I was there, the only way to avoid it is to qualify for a varsity team sport or be medically excused. So house sports need to have broad appeal, including to kids who aren’t interested in getting tackled or exposing themselves to the risk of long-term head trauma.

  • jeffrey preefer says:

    I wrestled varsity for 3 years (1964-1966). I captained the team with David Pollak in 1966. When I wrestled varsity in 1964 the minimum weight class varied from 98 lbs to 103lbs depending on the meet. In Feb. 1965 I weight 90 pounds. People wrestle. People get hurt. Life is full of risks but properly trained we take them daily, like crossing a busy street. Why not end wrestling at Lawrenceville, probably a much more dangerous sport?

  • Kevin Smith says:

    Well said, Jordan. (And a shoutout to Jack.)

    Compliments to those who made the decision. I stumbled on this on FB and just had to share something. I watched the House Football (hereafter “HF”) mania play out for seven years while I taught music there and was always amazed at the milieu surrounding HF, and not always amazed in a good way. For one thing, HF bled talent from the available pool for the varsity team. This was a continual thorn in the side, I imagined, for past football coaches. The desire to foster house spirit via HF came at the price of winning varsity football teams. I bet that this is one of the reasons for the change, too. Flag HF means the boys who want to tackle, can, but only on the varsity team…where there are professional coaches watching out for proper full-contact play.

    I was also continually bemused by some of the HF coaches’ on-field antics and histrionics. Maybe some women faculty can be HF coaches now?

    I also watched modestly athletic students virtually coerced into playing HF when doing so was decidedly not in their best interests, physically or psychologically. It wasn’t as much a bonding thing as it seemed an attempt to testosterone-ize those deemed lacking by the larger, stronger and dominant group. I doubt every player felt the same level of excitement, but was reticent to externalize it for fear of being ostracized.

    You couldn’t help but notice the injuries during HF season. The worst upshot to those in the midst of the storm wasn’t the set of implications for a boy’s future health (where it should have been), but rather the immediate reality of a player being unavailable for the “season” and thus the impact on team potential and morale. Such injuries incurred by boys not likely to do anything like this after Lawrenceville were unnecessary. (The number of concussions during a school year appalled me, too. I remember a very dear and talented oboist who was always getting knocked about in the head during her sports, but, thank God, it didn’t stop her from getting into U of Chicago!)

    Despite my distance and ambivalence, one thing I do hope results from this is that the girls’ houses now get to compete at HF if they so choose. Grabbing flags may level the gender playing field and also may, depending on the caliber of athletes involved, mean some girls houses may indeed beat some boys houses (“Stanley Wins Crutch!”). Wouldn’t THAT be a healthy dose of 21st century reality and a nod to Title 9 foresight? And then maybe some boys can play “Disc”, too?

    Greetings to all former students and colleagues…

  • Andrew says:

    “‘People are voting with their feet,’ said Duffy simply.” Why not put it to a real vote?

    Surely in instances when a house has too few players to compete we can find better solutions than flag football, such as distributing that house’s players among the remaining houses on the Circle, or allowing them to play games 8 v. 8.

    I am also interested in hearing more about the concussion statistics. I would hope that Lville is spending the money to ensure that the house football players are using the most protective helmets available, and that G is not referring to head injuries that could have been prevented by the use of better equipment.

  • Emilie Geissinger says:

    After reading many of these comments, I felt obligated to contribute a female perspective that is in support of Lawrenceville’s house football legacy. As a female student, I could never participate in House Football, but I did participate in a number of varsity sports throughout my high school career. When I describe my Lawrenceville experience, the two things I always mention are my housemates and my teammates. I felt athletics at Lawrenceville were a key part of my high school growth. To say you are part of a team or a house, is to say you are part of that family. One of the great things about House sports is that the two can be combined. You do not have to be the star varsity player to be on the house football team. Instead, all that is required is being a part of your house and being in “your family.” The relationships you can build on an athletic field are undefinable and long-lasting. It is the challenge and hardships of a team sport that make those relationships last. By taking away a core component of football, you begin to take away many defining moments on both the athletic field and in your house.

    I am not trying to say that other activities at Lawrenceville are not important. Lawrenceville prides themselves on creating the “Renaissance” student. If you take away someone’s opportunity to play a traditional sport with their house, you take an aspect away from the Renaissance student. Lawrenceville, like many other prep-schools, has an athletic component required each semester. It is necessary to remember the reasons why athletics are required at Lawrenceville. Team sports build character, work ethic, and a sense of community. To get rid of these long-standing tradition is to get rid of a foundation that has helped build both house and school pride.

  • Lisa Gabrielson '08 says:

    After reading this article and the comments, I would encourage each and every one of you to call or write to the headmaster’s office with your thoughts- of course in a professional manner.I know that my family who has attended Lawrenceville for three generations (and hopefully a fourth in the next decade) is greatly disappointed and will be speaking our minds. As far as I know, Lawrenceville highly values the opinion of its alumni, and as long as that hasn’t changed directly addressing the issue should make a difference.

  • Michael Mobley 97' says:

    This is a disgrace. What the major problem here is not the cancellation, but rather the lack of participation. Lawrenceville used to be a very well rounded school in terms of the student body, (Intellectuals, athletes, musicians, artists, etc)and now the schools has dwindled into only individuals with the highest test scores, that clearly don’t seem to care about community and team spirit. Or the school, isn’t doing enough to nurture that instinct within the house system. The male athletics have generally been a disgrace for the last 10 years (outside lax), and now no one wants to play house football. This activity, along with the house system, had a huge impact while I was at the school (and I played Varsity Football, but always supported the house team vehemently). Duffy, has changed Lawrenceville into an unrecognizable institution, and its very depressing. Where is Josiah Bunting when you need him.

  • Geoffrey Brown says:

    Having played one season of house football (Dawes, the fall of 1957, with D. D. Wicks as coach) I was saddened by this decision, although with declining participation I suppose it was a fairly easy one to make. I know that here in rural CT, two neighboring public high schools have had to join together to field a team, and I recognize that increased knowledge of brain trauma calls the whole sport into question.
    I remember that during the season that I played, I did get hurt (what I now recognize as a shoulder separation and a concussion) but I recovered. The positive aspects of having played, not the least of which was that I’ve been able to talk with hundreds of people since then about what it was really like to play single-wing football, in my mind outweigh the physical damage.
    Even though I later got a major L managing hockey, and was a member of L’ville’s first-ever interscholastic lacrosse team my fifth form year, I still think and talk more about that one season of Dawes football than most of the rest of my time at Lawrenceville.
    Times do change, and practices must change with them, but I still view the demise of traditional house football with sadness.

  • kevin ellis says:

    My brother and I were captains of varsity football and lacrosse in 1973 and 1977 respectively. So I hope I am spared the insults from those who would think me somehow weak or lacking in understanding of the precious House football system.

    Let’s all get over ourselves. Life changes. Football is dangerous. You can’t field teams. Guys play soccer and do other things. House football is ending. It’s OK. I’m not sure it was actually so great when I watched. As great as Dr. Keuffel was in our day – and he was great – the danger was great. I remember guys on buses home from away games with concussions and other injuries that we didn’t tend to.

    You guys who lament House football’s passing – and let’s not bother with those who lament co-education – need to move ahead. It’s Ok. L’Ville will survive. It might even be better. Give it a shot.

  • T Chew '81 says:

    My take from the Lawrence piece is the decision was made with no input from the circle houses. I played team sports at L-Ville, but I can recall the enthusiasm of the various Woodhull teams as they headed out for the particular sport and the competitive rivalries that helped bond them as players.

    The article mentions the concern about injuries. That is a weak argument used to prevent the individual participant from making their own decision about participating. Any sport can create painful injuries as I can attest from a concussion (via squash), two broken arms ( via hockey, including one at L-Ville), and various lacerations from lacrosse sticks, soccer cleats, etc. I believe Mr. Goldenberg should allow these boys the experience the excitement of taking a risk on an athletic field.

    The debate about the traditions leads me to acknowledge that they should not be taken away with a quick decision instead of a decision by the the schools’ customers, the students and their parents. This is too bad. I anticipate that L-Ville offers students many more diversions then when I was there, but the circle house concept and the fraternal relationships developed in 10th and 11th grade boys are uncommon at other prep and most colleges today.

    I support the boys’ challenge to their school administrators and will be happy to return to campus to see Woodhull kick The Dickenson in the rear end.

  • Catalina Rivera '03 says:

    Thank you, Jordan Silverman, for expressing so beautifully what I could not. Nothing makes me prouder of Lawrenceville than knowing that it continues to produce reasoned, passionate thinkers like you.

    While this switch in house football is surprising, I’m encouraged to see the administration responding to the needs of a changing student body. For certain generations, the Lawrenceville experience was epitomized by house football. For myself and many current students, this may not be the case. What’s important to remember is that we all found something memorable and inspiring about our time there. As long as Lawrenceville is able to foster meaningful experiences and community for its students then it remains true to the tradition.

  • Adam Horvath '91 says:

    This is sad news and I sincerely hope the fight is not over. I understand that there are a lot of factors involved with managing a fantastic institution such as L’ville, but I would truly hope that a lot more thought would have been given to disposing of a tradition that has lasted 124 years.

    If there has been a season or two in 124 years where attendance is low, then try to get to the bottom of it before cancelling. And give some respect to something that has lasted this long.

    I have very fond memories of playing for Cleve. If the Circle students from here on out truly are not interested in the program then that decision should be formed over several years, not just 1 or 2 out of 124. We owe at least that much to a program that has outlasted so many Presidents of Lawrenceville.

    Please rethink this decision and re-instate House Football!

  • Corson Ellis says:

    Well, as usual in threads like this, people tend to launch opinions instead of engaging in thoughtful discussion. I have just a few questions…
    1. Is it true, or not, that participation is down? Are they trying to field teams with 8 players? If so, it is untenable. You can’t field a football team with no substitutes. Maybe before you decide to stop giving to Lawrenceville because House Football is ending you should have a bit more information?
    2. What does this league cost? Lawrenceville tuition is rising dramatically, and many of us in this thread complain about it. Helmets, equipment, referees, insurance, are surely quite expensive. At some point, you can’t hang on to a tradition if interest in that tradition is declining.
    3. Football is dangerous. As co-captain of the undefeated Varsity 1973 team, I suffered three concussions. It’s a dangerous game, and there are legitimate discussions about whether or not, even at the pro, college, and high school level, it should survive.
    I think all of you should get a bit more information about what was behind this decision before you end your relationship to Lawrenceville.
    Corky Ellis ’73

  • Bart Zantzinger '81 says:

    I’m really disappointed. Intramural football gave a skinny kid from rural (then) Chester County, PA some confidence at a time when he didn’t have a lot of it. From the first few days in Woodhull, house football was a great way to get to know your new housemates, and the ones across the line of scrimmage as well. Issues of social background were muted, and the stresses of the classroom were put aside as young muscles were tightened and exhausted, replacing teenage angst with a pleasant feeling of accomplishment.

    (Plus, I’m pretty sure Woodhull would have beaten the JV both years Wade Woodrow Woodson and I played.)

    I have heard that some of the “low participation” issues stem from other sports coaches pressuring their recruits not to support their houses and do a safer fall sport. The wrestling coach, for instance, might worry about concussions and lean on his prize 160 pounder to do weights in the fall.

    I mean, I’m no doctor, but my guess is that the speed at which House Football is played would somewhat lessen the risk of concussions. This isn’t Deion and Barry Sanders coming together helmet to helmet.

    And really, how likely is it that my theoretical 160 pound wrestler is going to do himself enough damage to hurt a career that may or may not continue in college anyway?

    Furthermore, please consider the relative likelihood of said wrestler (sorry to pick on the wrestlers) wrenching his knee in a pickup basketball game or even just horsing around out of boredom? Young men seek outlets for their energy, and supervised contact sports like football and rugby when taught properly are great entry-level avenues to satisfy that – quite aside from the social benefits I’ve already mentioned here.

    If it is true that other coaches are hurting the house football program, I think that they don’t understand the overall Lawrenceville environment, and should relent.

  • Jeffrey G. Bell '64 says:

    I, too, am concerned about what is being described as a ‘suspension’ of ‘contact’ House Football this autumn. I am flabbergasted that one of our school’s greatest traditions is in jeopardy.

    I would suggest we have a leadership problem. The Board and the Head Master are aware that interest in House Football has been declining over the last 3-4 years. If House Football is an integral and essential aspect of our House system, then the Board and the Head Master should have anticipated the problem and acted accordingly. In my judgment, Admission policy is at the heart of the problem. I agree with Mike Cortina ’04 – Admissions can solve the numbers problem this year by admitting enough boys who are enthusiastic about participating in our 124 year House Football tradition. The prospect of a revived contact House Football league next fall would be enhanced if the number of options available to students is reduced. In my day, going to the field house to work didn’t exempt you from participation in a team sport.

    House Football can, should and must be saved. I do not think the current problem is part of a grand PC plan by the Administration to shut down a program that has instilled character and taught important life lessons to generations of male Lawrentians. This year’s ‘numbers problem’ is fixable. It is thus incumbent on all alumni/ae who care about House Football to bury the Board and Head Master with ‘incoming’! Don’t roll over – demand a solution that specifies steps to be taken to rectify the problem. While leadsership should have anticipated the problem, they can solve the problem. Let’s make sure they do so!!

    Go Big Red!

  • Casey Bauer '90 says:

    With NO consultation with the students whose interests are purportedly at issue? Aren’t Lawrenceville students supposed to be smart and appropriately challenged by the consideration of difficult questions facing their community? I am definitely not impressed with the apparent authoritarian handling, nanny-state mentality, and contempt for Lawrenceville traditions. It sounds like a lot of students are objecting to the handling as well. Good!

    This seems to be just one more in a decade of decisions that have felt disrespectful to the school’s students, alumni and history. What is the end goal, and does it look anything like the school that I chose and loved–as a female member of the third co-ed graduating class?

  • Tom Smallhorn says:

    If Liz Duffy is worried about kids getting hurt, she might want to think about dropping the varsity football, lacrosse, baseball, and hockey programs as well. Football is the ultimate team game and you learn things that can’t be taught in a classroom. Flag football is exercise only. Liz may have nine degrees from Stanford, but I’m guessing she never played the game. Let the kids vote with their feet.

    Tom Smallhorn
    L’ville ‘84 football team, 0-8 record

  • James F R Loutit '86 says:

    I find it ironic that the people who are making the decisions for the demise of house football at Lawrenceville never played house football. I wonder if they ever played football at all?
    In my day, if you didn’t make the interscholastic team you played house football. My other choices were weight lifting and cricket. So football it was. Even if you didn’t want to play house football, your classmates encouraged you to do so. It is not about you. It is about us. The house.
    I didn’t want to play. Why not? I didn’t have the confidence. I wasn’t prepared for football. I didn’t grow up playing football. I didn’t think I could hack it. I was a tennis player, a sailor…not a football player.
    But I did.
    I played left tackle for the MIGHTY Dickinson house football team.
    It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a talented football player. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what the hell was going on most of the time.
    What mattered was that I was facing uncertainty and managing. I was facing fear and coping. I was learning things about myself that I didn’t know existed. I was growing…into a man.
    I think it is great that Lawrenceville can field a football team. I think it is great when they create a great football team with a winning record. But, for the most part, the people doing that are the ones with that experience – they have played football or other physically intense sports in the past.
    The whole point about house football is that you are putting kids into a position out of comfort. You are putting boys in a circumstance where they can grow into the gender that they are: men. In today’s day and age when a high achiever’s only experience with violence is a video game, football provides an essential lesson. Lawrenceville might’ve gone co-ed quite a while ago, but last I checked they are still developing the boys into men. Aren’t they?
    The reason Lawrenceville has any problem with being unable to field a house football team is due to one reason and one reason only: school policy.
    By having the school ALLOW and ENCOURAGE the high acceptance rate of its interscholastic programs, it has bankrupted the house football system. Roll back the acceptance rate of interscholastic teams and you have returned the house system to its former glory. Pretty simple, right? Unfortunately, no.
    Lawrenceville is facing a crisis over house football because it has decided that getting kids into the best colleges is the number one focus. For that, I can’t blame them. It should be their number one focus.
    As we all know, getting into college today is harder than ever (or so they say), and Lawrenceville is determined to do the best they can. But good intentions can have bad consequences. Overzealousness to get a kid into a great school is becoming destructive. By prioritizing that goal over everything else, the school is losing its core values; its traditions; and alienating those who have experienced them.
    An analogous example I like to cite is the schools policy regarding calculus. In my day, only the really talented kids took calculus. They had to “make” it into to calculus. That means they had to qualify for the class by taking all the prerequisite courses and fulfill them exceptionally. Today (from what I have heard) Lawrenceville offers calculus to every student. Just different degrees of difficulty. Why? Because that is what colleges want to see on the transcript for admission. Is that right? I don’t know. But it is the reality.
    In the same vein, that has become a problem for house football. By not vetting a greater number of interscholastic players for intramural players the school has created a conundrum: Put the kids in interscholastic sports and get them into college? (check that box and make the college admissions people happy) Or keep house football going and continue the tradition?
    Take a look at the interscholastic teams and the numbers today versus the numbers in the past. I bet it will shock any alumnus. I hear there are 58 boys on the cross country team. In my day there were 8? 10 maybe? How many kids have “made’ the football team? What about the other interscholastic teams?
    Is this the right thing to do?
    Another problem is the “specialization” in sports. We have kids today that are so talented that they only concentrate on one sport all year. The Tiger Woods model if you will. To them and to the admissions committee, I say this. They are in the wrong place. Lawrenceville is a community. That means everybody contributes. Remember, it is not about me. It is about us. Maybe that kind of talent needs to be developed at a different kind of place. When my father was at Lawrenceville the football team went undefeated. When I went to Lawrenceville the football team went “only defeated”. In both cases those players went on to college and became wonderful, successful, contributing people. We don’t need “Tiger Woods” types. We need Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger types.
    Finally, there are concerns about concussions and what we know today. Well, what is it exactly that we know? Is it the kind of “know” that is indisputable like gravity? Or is this a developing science?
    As far as I am concerned, I “know” this:
    1) Football is the most popular sport in America.
    2) Lawrenceville has a unique place in the history of American Football that should be coveted. America’s oldest active football league. How can Lawrenceville replace that?
    3) The NFL may have paid off the lawyers for their players concussion issue, but that is what lawyers do. How many lawsuits have been paid off to mitigate an issue when there was really no issue to begin with?
    4) America is still playing football in the face of the NFL decision. Everywhere. Lawrenceville kids play football for a matter of weeks, not a lifetime… Really, what is the probability of an issue? For those that are concerned about the issue, Lawrenceville needs to do what it does best: educate. Develop the protocol to address the issue and the parental concerns.

    I will personally become concerned about football and concussions when the insurance actuaries deem it necessary to deny insurance coverage to the school because they play football. When that happens – uncle. Until then. Play football!
    The school and its leadership needs to come up with a new policy. One that can continue the great tradition of house football, and at the same time continue its mission of great college placement.
    When you meet a fellow alum from Lawrenceville, they don’t ask what team you played on. They ask what house you were in. If you were in a circle house, in the questions that may follow, more often than not there is one about house football.
    As I said to one of my classmates Bring back house football. Stop killing the Lawrenceville culture.
    Long live Lawrenceville! Long live Lawrenceville House Football!

  • Maurice Hakim '66 says:

    The Lawrenceville School Community and the Importance of a House Tradition

    In the 1880′s-1890′s, The Lawrenceville School was, to put it in contemporary terms, “re-branded”. Under the leadership and foresight of Headmaster MacKenzie, a new approach to the American boarding school experience based on the centuries old English tradition was implemented.

    Around a Circle designed by landscaped architect Frederick Law Olmstead, a collection of magnificent Victorian red brick residential “Houses” were constructed and where approximately 20 or more young men who together would dine, study and participate in intramural sports .

    Out of this House system, embraced decades later by Harvard and Yale, came many traditions and, more important, a community marked by a very special camaraderie and loyalty. It was a microcosm of the total Lawrenceville community which was now made even stronger by the sum of its parts. Distinct traditions evolved that set the Houses and their boys apart from others. These traditions and the House life have been memorialized by Owen Johnson and his great stories.

    The House system is the quintessential Lawrenceville experience It sets our school apart from all the others. III Form students, especially the Rhinies, interact in a more manageable environment, honing the social skills that makes transition from the adolescent mayhem of Lower School to the higher Forms. The House system instills and nurtures the set of values the School set for all of its young men and which the School expects them to adhere to as they move on to college, a career and life beyond the privileged walls.

    Lawrentians compete academically and on the athletic fields. They compete for acceptance into their college of choice. Students who do not play Varsity level sports compete with great enthusiasm in House sports. As nearly every alumnus has acknowledged, the experience to compete in House athletics and to win for the House is by itself a significant contribution to the community spirit.

    Notwithstanding the “Helicopter Mom” mindset that ultimately coddles our youth into believing mediocrity is acceptable, “winning” is very important. It is a challenge and Lawrenceville provides that challenge to the brightest of each generation in the classroom and, on multiple levels, the athletic field, that 99% of all the secondary schools in our country do not.

    There are many unique social experiences for young men that have come over 100 years with House tackle football. The school now wants to replace a hallowed institution with red flag football. The majority of students do not. If this is a trend for the reasons put forth, then Varsity sports, including football, should also be eliminated. Imagine the reaction would that bring?

    I cannot begin to tell you how great it was for me as a III Former to win the half mile race at the annual Circle House track meet in a rousing 2:27, thirty five seconds or more slower than Varsity Track Captain and Kennedy house VP Tom Callahan could run. That day, he and several varsity –types from Kennedy were there to cheer us on and, like a scene from “Chariots of Fire”, I was lifted by them in celebration for a surprising feat that meant so much to all of us. It was at that very moment I knew I was a part of Kennedy and, to a greater extent, a part of the entire school community. Such spirit was always displayed in House football especially when we beat Hamill to win the “Crutch Game”.

    So many of you have expressed what it meant to be part of this House tradition.
    House football has given young men the opportunity to do just that. The current administration does not seem to appreciate that fact that House Football is the signature piece of House rivalry. And when the game is played against the primary House rival, it takes on a special significance.

    The House playing fields have a very special place in our history. Clint Frank played House football there in the 1930’s and went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Yale. The annual “Crutch” game between Kennedy and Hamill is so important to Hamill’s heritage that a remarkable video was made in 2009 about it and featured testimonials from a past and a present Housemaster, former pro tem Headmaster, faculty members, alumni and, not in the least, current students.

    We know football is a physically rough sport but it is the classic, American male sport. Despite the inherent risk of physical injury, it is the most popular American team sport today. Rule changes are being made that address concerns and make it less violent; yet, as in several other sports played at Lawrenceville, we know there will always be the risk of injury. Students know the risk and those that play do not seem as concerned as the current Headmaster. Without meaning to offend some of the student body, plaster casts for bones broken on the athletic fields have always been badges of courage for young males.

    Do we abandon House Baseball because one can get beaned by a fastball or spiked by a cleat? I recall Hamill’s Hugh Cregg a/k/a Huey Lewis sliding hard into home, cleats high, into our catcher Rand Spenser who ‘til this day carries the scars on his arm. Or Bob McEwen, who was in a cast down to his toes for several months after twisting his knee 45 degrees after swinging at a pitch?

    Sports are very physically challenging and they are now getting more challenging as athletes take on greater physical dimension and strength. Does one capitulate to the risk or confront it? If parents don’t what their child to play tackle football, then they can tell Headmaster Duffy who should have given the students the choice; and, instead of treating them as immature adolescents, should, have called for a male only, student referendum before deciding to abandon what is a very time honored tradition.

    Long after we graduate from Lawrenceville and from college and grad school, Lawrentians must compete in an increasingly challenging world just to survive. Young Lawrentians will quickly discover what they are up against. They will have to confront, in every endeavor, men and women who are very different intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, ethically and, especially for those who choose military service, physically. Hopefully, your experiences at Lawrenceville will have prepared you. House Football is just one component that will.

  • Brackett Clark says:

    House football ? It was a highlight of my Lawrenceville/Dickinson years. So I had a broken nose after one game and spent a day or two in the infirmary ; then back to house football I went. What did I learn? That everyone – and I mean everyone – has a talent, maybe even hidden, to show. Sure, I ran Cross Country “for the School” and even Track for the Varsity. But House Football was probably one of the greatest learning experiences I ever had during four years at L’ville. Shame on “you” for watering this critical sport down to where it has virtually no impact on the players who, even at their worst, are at least trying to grow talent.

  • George M. Geeslin says:

    To The Editors Of The Lawrence:

    I learned over the weekend of the Headmaster’s decision to cancel House Football and I must say that I am saddened, indeed shocked, by this development. The reports indicate that this decision was made “quite rapidly” by Liz Duffy in concert with the School’s athletic director. Headmaster Duffy, moreover, is evidently “optimistic that the cherished tradition” of House Football will continue into the future by playing “non-contact football.”

    With a few exceptions, the dialogue from alumni has been insightful and civil and the volume of the response, in and of itself, is heartening, as it makes me realize how many of us–of whatever viewpoint on this specific issue– dearly love this great institution, The Lawrenceville School.

    All this being said, I now must say that I am deeply troubled by what this may tell us about those who are leading Lawrenceville. I find it hard to believe that the decision was made so quickly. More likely, the decision was long-contemplated and simply implemented quickly when the situation became ripe to do so.

    In addition, to suggest that the “cherished tradition” can continue with flag football is to display a complete lack of appreciation of the tradition. Make no mistake, House Football was at the very apex of virtually all house activities and holds a longer-established tradition at the School than Harkness tables.

    Permit me to note that I do truly appreciate the sentiments and opinions of, for example, Coach Fitzpatrick, who has added a thoughtful response to the Lawrence article. I must wonder, however, whether things have changed at the School so much since the YouTube video piece, “The Crutch”, only produced some two years ago. And, further, if this alleged decline in interest has been so evident for so long, what was done,if anything, during that time to encourage participation?

    Perhaps it is time to abandon this long cherished tradition. Sad, indeed, but such may be warranted.
    Yet, a decision of this nature–which, I think, goes to the heart of the House system–must be the result of struggling, hard and deliberate thought and discussion and be made only after consultation with House Masters, students, and even alumni representatives. I suspect that this dictate–from the top down–was none of that.

    At the very least, students, House Masters and all of us who do cherish Lawrenceville deserve something more than the marketing spin of optimism about continued traditions and facile statements about times changing.

    A decision of this nature also goes to the question of what vision the administration ,faculty and board of trustees has for the future of the School. That really opens up a host of issues beyond the scope of this note. Suffice to say at this point,if student qualifications are simply test scores,academics and ability to pay an out of sight tuition, then the School is in real trouble.

    I still have faith that Lawrenceville is more than that and a belief that it is more important than one person or group of persons. It has been, and always should be, a community. I, therefore,am sending today a token gift to the School in the amount of $125.00 to commemorate the years of House Football at the School and I urge all alumni(disgruntled geezers such as the undersigned or otherwise)participating in this dialogue to do the same, designating these funds as a gift to honor this cherished tradition.

    George M. Geeslin
    Proud Member of the Class of 1968 and Hamill House(1965-1967) and Thomas House (1964-1965).

    P.S. The Crutch is not just a piece of wood.

  • Ryan Rodriguez-Wiggins '01 says:

    I played for the JV and Varsity football squads during my time there, but had many friends who played house. I think the house games had more fans than the actual football team sometimes. It’s sad to see that tradition go away. Hopefully they will re-think this. If participation is an issue, perhaps they should allow the JV player to play on their house team as well, providing it doesnt interfere with games.

  • Jeff Dolan '79 says:

    This is another example of the misguided steps the current administration has taken. Initially, I was excited to have Liz as the first women to lead our school. As a member of the class of 1979 I was excited to have one of our own as the first “house dad”! But, I ignored the warning signs from the get go. The “think tank” guests that were not affiliated with the school and yet were invited to some of our most special occasions. Over the tenure of this administration we have seen a massive shift away from the core Lawrenceville values and, now, traditions. The misguided ideals of “greening, diversity, inclusion” and other such buzzwords have dramatically changed our school for the worse!

    Don’t let the false premise of lack of participation fool us. Here is the true cause of the elimination of another great institution directly from the Head Master, Liz Duffy, “What we do worry about is that boys in the house will feel pressured to play House Football, and frankly I don’t worry about that as much if it’s flag football because there’s not the same level of danger.” Liz is afraid?..ohh boo hoo!! What these people fail to recognize is what we all know to be true…that it is through the pain, suffering, and camaraderie of difficult endeavors, including TACKLE football, that both boys and girls grow to become stronger and better men and women!! She worries about boys being pressured? Seriously?? Pressured from joining a group of your housemates to work together for a larger goal? That is a bad thing? The fact is, that tackle football remains a politically incorrect form of athletic endeavor in the minds of the misguided liberals that now run our beloved school!!

    I used to be an active financial supporter of the school. I have not donated money in several years in a silent protest to the policies of the current administration. I am now vocally proclaiming that I will NOT donate another dime so long as these misguided and ruinous policies continue. I ask that the rest of you in this group join me. Much as we waited far too long for coeducation to better our school, we cannot wait far too long for this administration to completely ruin our school!!

    -Jeff Dolan
    Class of 1979…GO BIG RED!!!!

  • Zeke Hecker '65 says:

    LAWRENCEVILLE HOUSE FOOTBALL: A MEMOIR

    In fall 1962, a few days into my third form “rhinie” year (from the German “rein,” meaning pure or innocent? I should have asked Doktor von Schüching …), Jim Adams came barreling into my room in Dawes House and announced, “You’re playing House football, right?” I got as far as “um …” before he hauled me into the attic and, rummaging through a box of helmets, found the only one that would fit me, about the size of a grapefruit.

    I’d never played an organized team sport, only informal games of baseball and touch football in the street or a neighborhood park. I was a lousy athlete, skinny and uncoordinated, always picked next to last when sides were chosen up — more humiliating than last, implying I should have been better. I’d never attended a practice or worn a uniform. And I had no idea what House football was.

    Every afternoon we suited up and for a couple of hours did calisthenics, ran sprints, hit dummies, learned plays, and held scrimmages. Chuck Weeden — Dawes housemaster and former star halfback at Princeton — was our coach, a pillar of authority: patient, stoic, unrelenting. “Harder,” he said as we rammed into the dummies. “Harder.” He didn’t bellow. He didn’t have to. We listened and followed. He taught us how to hit without getting hurt. In two years of House football, I never did. Better than that, though: I overcame my fear of it.

    For the first (and nearly last) time in my life, I was in good physical shape. My neck muscles bulged until they were as big as my head — admittedly not a major achievement.

    The night before each game the team had a rally in the common room. They passed around a ridiculous hat, and when they put it on you, you had to make a rousing speech. In the 1963 Olla Pod there’s a picture of me doing that, proudly and idiotically.

    I was still a lousy athlete. I played right guard, all 115 pounds of me. (This was single-wing football, the genre Coach Weeden was schooled in.) Dawes had a deep bench, so I was something like third string. I would sit on that bench until the last two minutes of the game, when I would get put in if we were winning by about twenty points, which we usually were. In those days Dawes regularly took the Circle championship. (We also had more tea dances than the other houses, probably to compensate for living in an ugly faceless building instead of a real Circle house. What we lacked in beauté we made up in esprit.) I’d blunder through two or three plays before the final whistle. The guy I was supposed to block, invariably twice my size, would trample me in a millisecond and use my back as a springboard to leap in for the tackle. Somewhere in the fields behind Dawes you can still see the distinct imprint of my body embedded in the earth. (Archaeologists take note.)

    I loved every minute of it.

    This is a memoir, not a polemic. We know more now about the risks and consequences of physical damage in contact sports. Lawrenceville itself is a different place, with a much more extensive menu of activities and a wider range of values than half a century ago. Such diversity is a boon, but the downside is a scattering of interests, a loss of cohesion, mirroring what is happening in the world beyond the school gates. Of course Circle houses will find it harder to field full teams. Maybe it really is time for House football to end, or at least change. Too bad, certainly. But if so, despite the fond backward glance, I won’t be wearing my rhinie tie as a black armband.

    Zeke Hecker ’65

  • Jeff Dolan '79 says:

    After two more days, I am still shocked, saddened, and appalled at the misguided proclamation of HRH Liz Duffy. I stick by my suggestion that we withhold our money and donations until the current regime is ousted and a proper administration is put in place! I concur with a comment above that this decision was most assuredly in the plans for a long while with small participation rates being the false premise to do away with a great tradition and a great sport.

    That being said, is the administration really looking for solutions? There are many! Low participation rates in HS sports is a problem many rural communities have every year. Some schools have to forfeit games or even entire schedules for this reason. But, they do it for ONE year. They don’t disband the program. There are other areas of the country where 8 man or even 6 man football is played with great enthusiasm due to small school sizes. That is one alternative.

    A second alternative, from Marsh Chambers ’77, is to allow V formers the opportunity to play for their Circle house teams. A third, is to combine the Circle house FB teams and create a three or four team league until the participation rate increases.

    Two other more drastic solutions are available too. One, actually admit well rounded students into our school once again that will play house sports!!!!! Two, pair a Crescent house with a Circle house and let the girls play! There are other girls around the country wrestling and playing tackle football. Why not Lawrenceville…the new bastion of diversity and tolerance?

    Above are six viable alternatives to keep the oldest tackle football league in the United States alive and well. Let’s see how quickly the administration takes to actually do something constructive. It took them all of about two seconds do destroy 120 plus years of tradition!!!