Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 12, 2020

A tradition passed down through generations

By ADDY PERLMAN | November 29, 2018



Pledges bobbing for apples as part of their quest to become sisters.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would give you a story to be thankful for. 

A long time ago, two mortal enemies formed rival sororities for their high schools. They were each going to take 50 girls from their grades to form pledge classes. Who would recruit whom? Which would be more popular? Who would win? 

It was 1979. In a cow pond, the littles from the rival sororities slung mud at each other and pulled ponytails, trying to bring home the Mud Fight Trophy for their chapter. The football teams placed bets on which girl would stay in the longest. All of the rest of the high school kids gathered around the pond to watch the initiation ritual. 

The Mud Fight, Sigma versus Pi Gamma, was intense. There was a uniform: shorts and cutoff T-shirts with their letters. The boys cheered for their favorite girls as they wrestled and ripped at each other’s throats. It was the event of the week, arguably of the year. 

Girls almost died protecting the reputation of their sororities. Holding each other under the water and the mud, they were ruthless. By the end, everyone was covered in mud, and some were covered in blood. The motto: Fight or die for your letters. 

Afterward they moved on to the next challenge. In cars they were taken to a farm. Huge blocks of ice sat in the middle of the pastures. In bathing suits, they were instructed to sit on the ice blocks and wait for their bigs to throw their concoctions on them. 

The mixtures were fish guts combined with rotten food and a variety of other disgusting ingredients. All at once they were poured over the pledges’ heads. With fish guts hanging out of their bathing suits and clumps of rotten milk in their hair, the girls rushed toward the Twin Lakes.

Everyone jumped in, and with that jump they officially became members. They’d made it; initiation was over. Then the whole town gathered around the lake for the best party of the year. 

Fast forward to 2015. I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m a pledge. Only Sigma is left, and I am to carry out the tradition my mother passed down. I’m a “ratt,” a pledge. Initiation week has begun. 

At 5 a.m. on Friday, we get kidnapped by our bigs dressed in atrocious costumes. We’re crammed in a car with them, their friends and their littles. 

When we get there, the track is surrounded by all the guys in town. They shine the headlights of their trucks on the track and crowd around to watch. Around we run, singing our ratt-week song. The boys take pictures and cheer for us as we see who can spin in circles the longest without falling. Our week has only just begun. 

Over the next few days, we are under the control of our bigs. Whatever they want us to do, we do. On the third day, we have a town-wide scavenger hunt. We are all competing for the best big/little pairing. All we want is to win and rack up points. Everything is a competition. 

That night we are thrown on stage to perform in front of the whole town. We have four hours to choreograph and practice a lip sync and dance routine in costumes (of course). Phones in the air, everyone records our performances. Our mothers come with their sisters, whom they have stayed friends with through the years, to watch us do what they did. 

Finally the last day comes. We are dressed in hideous one pieces and once again are driven to a farm. We line up and await instruction. We are told to form two lines behind two buckets. The game: bob for apples. The twist: in milk, vinegar, eggs, mustard and other mysterious items. You want to be in the front just in case someone throws up in the bucket. 

We desperately search for the apples, our heads plunged into the mixture. You can’t get up until you get an apple or you have spent a lot of time trying to. Once you finish, you are halfway done with the final round. Of course, the worst part is saved for last. 

We lie down on tarps in the middle of the field and wait. Finally, our bigs stand at our feet. Our advisor counts down, as mothers and friends gather around with their phones ready. When our sponsor gets to one, the bigs throw rotten food all over us, covering us in condiments, fish guts that have been sitting in the sun all week, rotten milk and everything else imaginable. 

We hold our breath, trying not to let anything seep into our mouths. Some of the bigs make art out of their littles, making designs with the rotten leftovers they have saved for three weeks. The horn blares, and it’s over. 

Even though it has been hell, it’s also been fun. We’re inextricably bonded. We all head to Twin Lakes again to jump off of the same dock our mothers did one more time. Our bigs watch and cheer for us, the new members. Next year we will be in standing in their places. And then the party starts.

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