Boat Races and Football Brunch? Looking into Redwood traditions and history

Calla McBride


Illustration by Calla McBride

Junior and senior jerseys, the Back To School Dance (BTSD), Homecoming Week, the Spirit Ball along with countless others, are classic Redwood traditions carried on each school year by students and staff alike. 

Many of these beloved and iconic traditions started decades ago and continue to unite the Redwood community. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, school social events have been restricted, causing many current Redwood students to be robbed of these yearly events.

Numerous Redwood traditions of today have been practiced for over thirty years. Jennifer Hartung, a Class of 1987 Redwood alumna, recalls participating in several sustained traditions, along with a few that are no longer around today. 

“Homecoming week was a really big deal when [I attended Redwood]. There were seven girls chosen for the actual court … Every day at lunch there were different contests that the court had to do … I remember the court having to do boat races. They were in little rubber boats and raced in the pool, [and] then they had to chug a Coke at the end,” Hartung said.

Hartung was also a cheerleader and participated in traditions unique to her class with her team.

 “We used to kidnap the entire football team at six in the morning. We would go over and surprise them at their houses, wake them up and then drive them all to somebody’s house and have breakfast,” Hartung said. 

During her years at Redwood her class shared an especially unique tradition: The Unknown Animals. This group of boys joined together freshman year in the hopes of increasing school spirit. They would paint their faces and attend Redwood games to chant and rile up the crowd. The Animals united the class due to their rebellious and amusing shenanigans.

“I would say the Unknown Animals were completely classic Class of 1987 … The tradition did not continue after we left because the administration did not like it, but despite that, the Unknown Animals totally brought people together during their short time at Redwood,” Hartung said.

The Unknown Animals and the boat races may have been left behind, but other traditions are still a part of Redwood culture today. This includes the tradition of BTSD, a dance held in the quad to kick off the start of the school year. Upperclassmen every year look forward to wearing their custom jerseys, bringing their whistles and enjoying a night of music and dancing. In 1987, Redwood still had the traditional dance at the beginning of the year, but the name would not be coined until later.

Another current Redwood tradition that took place during Hartung’s time was the painting of the spirit ball. Today, the spirit ball carries layers and layers of spray paint from Redwood sports teams who painted it during their season. However, the spirit ball traditions looked different when Hartung was there. 

“The night before homecoming, people would guard [the spirit ball] so that the other schools could not paint it,” Hartung said. “I remember one time Drake [High School] students snuck in and spray painted it … It was completely green with a big “D” painted on it.”

The girls’ varsity soccer team made sure the current tradition of decorating the spirit ball was not lost last year. Junior and girls’ varsity soccer player, Maya Greenholz, knew decorating the spirit ball was an event the soccer team wanted to continue, despite their shortened season due to COVID-19. With masks on, the team brought spray paint and decorated the ball with a quote and signed their names. 

Illustration by Calla McBride

“[Decorating the spirit ball] is something that [the girls’ soccer team] has always done no matter what … [the year before] we met up and got brunch prior to decorating it, so although we could not do that [due to COVID-19], we still wanted to keep the tradition going as much as we could,” Greenholz said.

Other Redwood sports teams, including varsity girls volleyball, continued this tradition as well. However, many non-athletic traditions were not able to happen during COVID-19. All three Redwood dances — Homecoming, Prom and BTSD — were canceled last year. The lack of dances, especially BTSD, caused great sadness amongst upperclassmen who were unable to wear their customized junior and senior jerseys and boast their upperclassmen status on the first event of the year. 

Senior Catherine Hackett, one of many upperclassmen who got their junior (and now senior) year disrupted due to COVID-19, is disappointed that she missed out on so many traditions.

 “It makes me really sad because I feel like I have worked up to [these events] my whole high school experience. I have been looking forward to certain traditions that people get when they become seniors and then now that I am a senior, they are not happening,” Hackett said.

Hackett understands that having everyone crammed into the quad or in the gym for a dance might not be safe, but she was upset there was no compromise of some sort.

 “I feel like there is a way they could do an alternate type of dance. It does not have to be all of us squished in the quad like usual. We could do something on the football field, super spread out, or only underclassmen [at one dance] and another one for juniors and seniors,” Hackett said.

Greenholz shares a similar mindset to Hackett, and adds that traditions, although important for sports teams, run deeper than athletics.

“It’s definitely important to keep traditions going. Participating in them brings everyone together, not just sports teams. Being a part of these traditions just makes you feel like you are a part of history,” Greenholz said.