As this native Californian has learned after a decade on the East Coast, this is about the time of year when you start getting stir crazy for spring. So here’s a piece to get you even more in the mood. It’s a little shortie I did for the Rugby Ralph Lauren blog back in 2009, here rescued from the Internet ether. It’s followed by an interesting historical quote.
First, me for Rugby:
Did the sport of rugby spawn the annual bacchanal known as Spring Break? Apparently. Before Spring Break became known as Regrettable Hookup Week, it was actually called Rugby Week. At least for a select few Ivy Leaguers. In 1935 the Bermuda Athletic Association invited Harvard, Yale and Princeton’s rugby teams to come down for a friendly scrum, offering the students a $50 travel stipend, and the spring break tradition of sun and sport (indoor and outdoor) was born.
In 1948 Life Magazine covered the outdoor shenanigans (though of course not the indoor, what my grandma used to call “phony baloney”) in a cover story proclaiming, “It is one continuous party for 500 US collegians.” Talk about exclusive: Compare that to Ft. Lauderdale, whose Spring Break attendance peaked at 350,000 in 1989 before the rise of rival destinations like Cancun. Soon the former British colony became an annual springtime playground for elite Ivy Leaguers — and those who hoped to marry them. But by the late ’50s rising college enrollment and affluence allowed the masses to crash the party and join in whatever the ’50s equivalent of body shots was, and the seven days of revelry became known simply as College Week.
According to Life, the co-eds “got terribly tangled up riding bicycles in the left-hand Bermuda traffic. They got terrible sunburns, and most of them saw little of Bermuda. But for the tourist-conscious Bermudians, Rugby Week was sure to pay off. They can expect to meet at least one fourth of the collegians again-as honeymooners.” Ah, wasn’t life simple?
So it 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.
While researching the little piece above, 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.