By Mary Morrison
Last semester, the wonderful Sarah Cumming (C’13) delighted us with a look in to The Sewanee Purple’s past. This semester, I wish to continue in this tradition, however with a more modern past. The Purple of the last three decades has a plethora of amusing articles and pictures to delight a contemporary audience. I will serve as curator and editor, to inform and entertain you with the Sewanee of the 90s and early 2000s. For the inaugural column, I present “Frog Song: The Real Story,” by Townsend Zeigler, originally published May 14, 2004. It tells the tale of the Theta Pi frog, a tradition now lost to history.
Early this semester, the Theta Pi frog nearly faded into another lost Sewanee tradition. When members awaiting initiation (“pledges”) from Theta Kappa Phi, Theta Pi, and Kappa Alpha Order clamored for possession of the frog, the administration felt the Greek organizations went too far and sentenced Theta Pi’s frog to trial before the ISC.
The frog will return next year, but the wake of its chaos still haunts many on campus. The Theta Pi frog debuted at the same time as the sorority. A pledge receives the frog for one week to honor one of her recent acts of moral slippage. She must carry the frog at all times and protect it from other Greeks. If a member of a fraternity or rival sorority captures the stuffed animal, the pledge who failed to protect the frog must explain in detail why she merited the frog. Capturing the frog provides a Greek organization a trophy, while allowing the pledge to claim the limelight of a week of Sewanee gossip.
The battle for the Theta Pi frog began early this semester during a Theta Pi/faculty Intramural Basketball game. Pledges from KA espied the pledge that supposedly merited the frog for the week. She was playing basketball with the rest of her sorority while her Vera Bradley bag, oddly lumped in the shape of a frog, lay at the side of the court. Quickly ducking from view, the KA pledges formulated a plan: they would all run out onto the court, steal the bag, and run like hell the other way.
The plan failed. Once the girls noticed the charge, they clustered into a mass of tightly locked limbs, which entangled the bag at the center. While the guys attempted to pry the prize from the screaming mass, a faculty member, disgruntled at the interruption of the basketball game, went angrily to the crowd, extended a brawny arm, and with bear-like strength, ripped many boys away, tossing a few down the basketball court. The fight was futile, and the KA pledges fled Fowler. The frog would cause more bedlam.
After the defense of the frog in Fowler, most fraternities and sororities knew who had the frog. The bearer says, “The next day at lunch was intimidating. Everyone stared at me when I passed the tables, and people made fake lunges at my sack. The whole frog experience was scary but fun.” Fortunately, an entourage of Theta Pi pledges schooled around her, warding off potential aggressors. Although tense, the day was quiet.
The next day saw action. TKP pledges drew the bearer from her room, while one hastily searched for the frog. She found it under the bed in its small Vera Bradley handbag. With the handbag secured, the TKP pledges bowed out and escaped quietly. Upon returning to her room, the bearer could not find the frog. Panic hit, and she realized what happened. Theta Pi pledges rushed from the dorm to a car, speeding off to reclaim the frog.
They found the TKP pledges outside Cleveland, flaunting their prize. The Theta Pis leapt from the car, claws extended, and the second battle for the frog ensued. TKPs charged from the dorm to aide their sisters, and the Theta Pis were soon overwhelmed. The TKP pledges drove away with the frog. The Vera Bradley Purse was destroyed.
The Theta Pi pledges pursued the TKPs, who attempted to lose them, Land Rover e Land Rover. But the TKPs could not throw off the dogged Theta Pis, and desperate, they turned down Kentucky Avenue, which at the time was closed for construction. The Land Rover, as advertised handled well on the rugged track at least until it hit a six foot deep ditch. Pledges from both sororities dropped the chase, and the police soon arrived.
An IM basketball game had been interrupted, a Land Rover mired in a ditch, and a Vera Bradley purse irreparably torn. Dean Hartman now intervened, ordering that the frog now stand trial before the Inter Sorority Council: “I feel it is best to let the students decide such matters. However, hazing is risky, deadly, and highly problematic. It by no means aspires to what the institution or individual wants or needs.” The ISC debated whether this tradition should live, or whether the mayhem and damage caused by the stuffed from merited its death. After much debate, the ISC suspended the frog for the remainder of the semester and proposed to reinstate the tradition, which has existed since Theta Pi’s founding in 1984, next year. In celebration, Theta Pi pledges decorated themselves with yellow goggles and autographed trucker hats. The University of the South nearly lost another subtle tradition. The Greek system nearly suffered a loss of sport and convivium. But the ISC spared the frog, and Sewanee kept a small piece of its unique character.