Every other year, Harvard’s undergraduate population skyrockets on the third Saturday in November. Yalies come in droves to share in the rivalry of The Game. Friday night is filled with celebration and Saturday morning with tailgates and trash talk. But we must be careful not to put all of the rivalrous pressure on the football game because the third Friday of each November is the day of the Harvard-Yale Intramural Championship Games! The champions in each intramural sport at Harvard face off against those from Yale and the winners are awarded the coveted Harkness Trophy.
This year at Harvard, Pforzheimer’s soccer team, Leverett’s flag football team, Mather’s frisbee team, Winthrop’s volleyball team, and Eliot’s basketball team will all challenge the Yale IM champions in these sports. Tradition seems to prevail automatically, propelled by enthusiasm for intramurals and supported by little institutional memory. The school spirit that springs to life every year for this epic event was born by the genius Edward Harkness in 1935.
On November 8, 1935, the Crimson announced that the Harkness Trophy had been presented to Harvard and Yale to be kept by the winner of the most intramural victories between the two colleges during the weekend of the football game. The original championships consisted of nine sports: football, touch football, basketball, swimming, golf, squash, crew, tennis, and baseball. According to the article, Mr. Harkness considered intramural athletics the best kind and believed that Harvard students should only compete in intercollegiate competitions against Yale intramural teams.
Fast forward to the 1950s and intramural football was the sport of the day. Each Harvard House and each Yale College would field a football team and sister houses would compete. So not only was the varsity football game the one to watch, but the play-by-play of each intramural football contest was reported as well. According to one report in the Crimson, 480 men from Harvard and Yale participated in intramural football games in 1950.
In 2016, intramurals are far less of a news item around the time of Harvard-Yale, with the focus around the football game and relevant festivities. However, at Harvard, both this weekend and year-round, intramurals are alive and well. Nakoa Farrant ‘18 of Leverett House is the undergraduate leader of intramurals at Harvard. He writes “One of the great things about this IM tradition is that it expands the Harvard-Yale rivalry to more than just the rivalry between the varsity football teams that most people care about on Saturday. These fun contests offer an opportunity for students from Harvard and Yale to compete and get to know each other in the process.”
It seems that the continuance of IM competitions is fueled not so much by the tradition itself, but rather by an eternal and true desire to best Yale at every possible opportunity. Additionally, the Championships are mandated in the Intramural Rulebooks of both universities. This inherent need to demonstrate Crimson’s superiority is especially apparent given the disappearance of the physical Harkness Trophy in the 1970s. With no physical prize, the winner of the Harvard-Yale IM Championship has only the glory and pride of besting the other to carry him to next year. And it has carried intramural athletes through 81 years of competition and will carry them through many more. Winthrop volleyball captain Matt Disorbo ‘17 looks forward to this Friday’s competition writing “We played in this game two years ago and had an excellent time; it almost made us feel like we were a part of the athletic action of the weekend. It helped that we obliterated Yale in straight sets.”
Kelsey O’Connor (firstname.lastname@example.org) predicts that the Varsity Football team won’t be the only one crushing Yale this year!