In celebration of Spring Break, I wrote a shortie on the origins of the Great Escape for the blog at Ralph Lauren’s Rugby.com.
Seems the tradition of students going somewhere tropical over Easter began in 1935 when The Bermuda Athletic Association invited some Ivy League rugby teams down for a friendly tournament. By the ’50s Rugby Week became known as College Week, and then Spring Break.
Life Magazine chronicled the hijinx for a 1948 cover story; the photos are included in the post. There’s a great shot of a Yalie in white bucks and rep tie. That he’s hanging upside-down from a tree is almost as amusing as my being referred to as “the preppiest guy in town.”
While researching, I found this summary of the fall of Bermuda’s College Week scene at the hands of impertinent interlopers. The following is an excerpt from “The Right People: A Portrait of the American Social Establishment,” a 1958 book by Stephen Birmingham. — CC
Another social sport that, like crew, has suffered recently from overcrowding is Rugby. For a number of years, Rugby failed to get an official athletic department recognition at major colleges, which gave its partisans — like the select few who make up college polo teams — the pleasant feeling of being insiders by virtue of being outsiders.
Also, on most campuses, Rugby players were not really required to know how to play Rugby; the major talent for Rugby was the ability to muster round-trip plane fare to Bermuda for Rugby Week, the sport’s annual rite of spring. Rugby Week or College Week was once cozy and gay and giggly and distinctly upper class, and mothers had no qualms about allowing their daughters to go, in groups, to attend the event. But slowly, the tiny Atlantic archipelago began noticing annual increases in the numbers of Rugby and non-Rugby playing guests at Easter time.
Soon College Week was more crowded than the Yale Harvard Regatta, more wild-eyed than Derby Day, Yale’s famous (and now defunct) romp. College Week sat in the middle of Bermuda’s sunny season like a drunk at a tea party.
“I’ve gone to my last College Week,” said a Princeton sophomore a few years ago. “You can’t believe what it’s like. The hotels are all filled, so guys sleep under rocks on the beach. If you’re lucky enough to have a room, you’re expected to share it with twenty other guys. The bar at the Elbow-Beach Club is packed three people deep and filled with armed Security Guards trying to keep order. And the girls! My blind date one night was a CPA from Chicago. For my money, the whole Rugby thing has gone way, way down.”
It was to go even further. Bermuda, displeased with the behavior of its visitors, made them increasingly unwelcome, and soon the young, and the ensuing disturbances, turned to the beaches of Florida, to Fort Lauderdale and then, a ‘ few years later, to Daytona Beach. All pretense at any connection with the sport of Rugby was abandoned, and College Week no longer has any Society overtones at all. Today, the holidaying college crowd tends to favor Puerto Rico and upperclass mothers keep their daughters home — remembering, though, when it was all sweet innocence in Bermuda, with all those nice young Rugby players from the Ivy League. And where are the nice young men today if they are not playing Rugby? On the nearest ski slopes they can find.