During my years at my small liberal arts college, our football team was average. They were competitive but did not field a winning record, I think, in the four years I was on campus. We were one of those schools that had a good long-ago history of football but the recent past was pretty mediocre, so there wasn’t a significant culture of “winning football” to advertise.
Not that many students went to the games each week, and not that many faculty did either. There were a handful of us who would paint our faces and chests and (attempt) to lead the student section in cheers. Some late season games the student section was not much more than just five or six of us, a dozen bundled up students, and one professor.
The one professor was from the classics department, and he had established a chant that we used several times during the games. Under the guise of “intimidating” the opponents (yeah, right), we yelled every time they were punting the ball. If it was a success, he bought us food and drink. Sounds a bit…elementary? Absolutely. And loads of fun.
The most fun and ridiculous aspect of this was the chant itself:
block that punt
Yes, the Latin folks have figured it out. The first six lines are simply the conjugations of the verb “sum” in Latin, which is the verb “to be.” This chant is shallow. It has less meaning than many Katy Perry lyrics.
But it’s also memorable, and a good story. When I first started working at the high school, I shared it with one of the Latin teachers and unbeknownst to me he really loved it. How much?
Yesterday I was updating some software on his computer during a semester exams review session for one of his Latin I sections. They were working over their review packets and had gotten through three or four conjugations when the teacher said to the class:
“well now everyone, since Mr. Simmer is here, let’s impress him with your knowledge of the conjugations of ‘sum’”
And they did the chant. A room full of freshmen in high school chanting a stupid Division II liberal arts football chant. I was strangely, stupidly proud of them.
It’s interesting to me how much a side note or anecdote to one person becomes a significant moment or memory to someone else. I had forgotten about telling my colleague about that chant years ago, and when I asked him about it again yesterday he said he has been using it in his classes every year. It is a good learning technique, after all, albeit very cheesy.
Maybe it is a good reminder to me to take hold of the little things. The little things for one become the big things for somebody else. How many little things do I say or do that I think just push out into the atmosphere and disappear into history? A Latin verb serves as a good reminder that many times, someone grabs those moments and holds onto them because they are important.
A foolish college memory of mine may in fact be chanted by a few hundred Detroit high school students and graduates now, and wouldn’t that be incredible? I just hope they don’t use it at a football game and get a punt blocked, I don’t have the money to buy that many hot dogs.