Posted December 4, 2013
By SAMANTHA LUCCI
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It was the middle of the night last Tuesday, between 10 p.m. and midnight. Temperatures were below freezing. Snow already covered the ground in a thin layer as even more continued to fall from the sky.
Crowds of thousands of chanting and singing college students marched their way down the many side streets of downtown Columbus toward the same final destination.
Chants like “USA! USA! USA!” and “We don’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan, we’re from Ohio!” could be heard from the other side of campus.
The reason for it all? The Ohio State University football team played the University of Michigan that upcoming Saturday.
The destination? A relatively small body of water in the middle of the OSU campus, called Mirror Lake.
Their intentions? Yep. You guessed it. They planned to jump in.
Anyone who understands anything about the sporting world knows how intense rivalries between schools can be, at any level, and how passionately students act to show their school spirit.
There are some intense regional college football rivalries around the country. There’s Texas-Oklahoma, Southern Cal-UCLA, Harvard-Yale, Army-Navy, Kentucky-Tennessee, Auburn-Alabama, Florida-Georgia. But none beats the OSU-Michigan rivalry.
More than 10,000 students – many wrapped in the warmth of a liquid blanket and propelled forward by the fiery adrenaline of an unparalleled college rivalry – took to the streets wearing swimsuits and Speedos with sandals or shoes duct-taped to their feet. Some went shirtless and pant-less. Those who did choose to wear actual clothing, stuck to t-shirts and shorts that proudly boasted their loyalty and devotion to their school, or voiced their hatred for that school and ‘that state up north’.
Shirts that read “Muck Fichigan,” were as tame as they got.
Tuesday’s jump is typically the only one that occurs each year. But, this year things were done differently. According to officials, an OSU student had been killed earlier in the semester by causes unrelated to the Mirror Lake jump.
The OSU administration, worried for the safety of their student body, aimed to add regulations to the annual event that would prevent anything that tragic from happening.
On the grounds surrounding the lake, local police officers set up fences to control the hoards of people planning to make the jump. Having caught wind of the administration’s plans to restrict the event to only those who could present their student Buck-ID and who would be allowed entrance to the area through a single gate, students rebelled.
“There was a Facebook group and a Twitter hashtag made to plan an alternate day to do the jump,” said Kristen Ealy, 21, a senior at OSU from Orlando, Fla. “The university made the group admin take it off Facebook, but people showed up anyway. Some students ran full on into the fences and knocked them down. Then, a lot more people followed.”
Many students voiced outrage at the university’s attempts to regulate the event that, since it’s inception in 1990, has remained unsponsored and relatively untouched by the administration. Though, each year, administrators do make a point of encouraging students to not participate.
One student sympathized more than others with the perspective of administrators and the Columbus police force.
“Some people think that they control game day and Mirror Lake activities too strictly,” said Devon Milkie, 21, also a senior at OSU. “But really they’re just proving that they’re just here to help us and keep us safe.”
Milkie described her experiences with the yearly tradition.
“My freshman year I worked at the front desk of my dorm on Mirror Lake night. I saw everyone coming back from the lake and quite honestly, it freaked me the hell out. I went down after my shift with the intention of jumping, but didn’t because the water was so murky and I was afraid I could get trampled or something. I am a true OSU fan and I hate Michigan as much as the rest of us, believe me. I just don’t feel like our football team’s success is contingent upon my risking hypothermia and, this year, arrest.”
“Since then, I celebrate with everyone, but don’t jump in. I still think Mirror Lake and football Saturdays are an important part of tradition at our school,” said Milkie.
While Milkie maintains her reservations toward the insanity of the Mirror Lake jump – and she is certainly not the only one – many others view that same insanity as the very reason to be a part of it.
Matthew Nykaza, a junior at the University of Miami, was one of those. He spent part of his Thanksgiving break visiting some close high school friends at OSU and was there for the Tuesday night jump.
“I love going to these kind of big traditional events that bring a whole school together. I think it’s awesome to see. I’ve never been anywhere that has anything even close to what the Mirror Lake jump is, so I wanted to experience that,” he said. “It’s kind of a special event. I don’t think many schools have anything like that. UM doesn’t. I wish we did.”
Nykaza’s assessment of the jump differed greatly from Milkie’s. Prior to going, he had seen YouTube videos of it.
“It looked really unruly and I guess I expected there to be a lot of conflict or at least a lot of people getting hurt,” he said. “After doing it, though, I’d say it’s a somewhat safe environment. The water is really shallow and everyone just seems to be looking out for each other. They just wanted to have fun and make sure everyone else did too.”
He also mentioned the surprise he felt at his original concerns over the role of alcohol in celebrating the event being overturned.
“It’s pretty amazing to have over 10,000 people in one place, most probably drunk, without any fighting. It’s all just love for Mirror Lake and OSU, and hatred for Michigan. That’s pretty cool.”
The Mirror Lake jump is not the only event that occurs during the OSU vs. Michigan rivalry week. According to Ealy, there is a blood battle, where the two universities compete to see who can donate the most blood to the Red Cross. Smaller events include pep rallies and 5K races designed to get the students pumped up. There is even a club that goes around and crosses out every visible “M” on campus.
“It’s not just about Mirror Lake,” said Ealy. “The whole rivalry week creates a huge sense of unity on campus and ties everyone together. It makes me feel like I’m part of something so insanely awesome that’ll stick with me well after I graduate.”