Tugs: A history of brotherhood, tradition among Greeks


Members of Phi Sigma Kappa pull their way to victory in the finals of the NIU IFC Tugs competition during last year’s competition.

By Keith Hernandez

There is a sound every tugger longs to hear from the start of training in January: “This is for real! High bank, are you ready? Low bank, are you ready? Tuggers ready. Tuggers set. Tug!”

There is a long history behind these words, which have been announced before every Tugs match dating back to the 1960s, when Tugs was held at the East Lagoon during NIU’s annual May Fete celebration. The familiar words will be repeated at this year’s Tugs April 21 to 26 in the East Tailgate Field.

During its early years, service fraternities and independent teams participated in Tugs. The Flunkies, an independent team, won the 1965 Tugs championship against Tau Kappa Epsilon, according to a May 18, 1965, Northern Star article.

“High bank and low bank makes sense when you were over by the lagoon and there was actually a … body of water in between and two banks, and one was higher than the other,” said Sigma Nu alumnus Kevin Kedzior. “The crowd goes crazy; it’s so cool.”

Kedzior was a tugger from 1990-1992, during which time Tugs was hosted by Sigma Phi Epsilon in a small lot by the fraternity’s house. The venue changed from the East Lagoon to Greek Row due to university liability concerns in the early 1980s, and the competition arrived at the Sig Eps House in 1986.

“Tugging at the Sig Eps house … was a complete zoo because the area and space was not as spread out and open as it is at the tailgate field, so you really only had 5 yards on each side of the Tugs trenches that was roped off,” said Matt Marconi, Sigma Pi alumnus and tugger from 1998-2002. “The crowd was like right on top of you, which increased the excitement and intensity of the tuggers.”

Although the Sig Eps venue was festive, Kedzior said Tugs was not getting as much exposure as it could have outside of Greek Row. Sigma Eps’ charter was suspended in 2007 after its members were involved in several controversies, resulting in confusion over who would host the 2008 Tugs tournament.

“Everyone was trying to figure out who is going to run Tugs now,” Kadzior said. “So, I sprung into action and I called a meeting with all of the alumni advisers from the six fraternities that had fielded a team the previous year.”

In that meeting, the advisers chose to put the tournament back on campus under the Interfraternity Council. Tugs is now held at the East Tailgate Field of Huskie Stadium.

Marconi said the change of venue, as well as other changes, including a reduction in team size from 11 tuggers per rope to nine, had a negative effect on the intensity of the sport.

“There’s not as much interaction with the tuggers as there was back in the day,” Marconi said. “I don’t want to take away from anything these kids have done because these are the rules they’re dealt to play with … . It has a lot to do with membership size of all the fraternities and people not being in love with Tugs as they were when I went to school.”

Other recent changes to Tugs were the university’s 2012 suspension of the Pikes, who won 22 championships from 1980-2009, due to the death of pledge David Bogenberger allegedly during a fraternity event, and the relocation of the championship game from Fridays to Saturdays to draw a bigger crowd.

Despite the changes, senior marketing major Ryan McGushin, a member of Phi Kappa Theta, said the Tugs tradition is important.

“The tradition to me determines each organization’s work ethic, determination and overall bond of brotherhood,” McGushin said. “The best feeling is when your fraternity alumni come out to support the undergrads in the competition.”

IFC President Trevor Morrison said hosting Tugs is an honor.

“The opportunity to host Tugs means a lot to me and would mean a lot to anyone in the Greek system here at NIU,” Morrison said. “As a participant in the event for the last four years, I have realized that the reason for the competition is beyond some people’s comprehension. I don’t pinch the rope for myself. I pinch it and give it my all because if I don’t, I hurt the men in front and behind me.”