It’s a normal weekday evening at the Old Gym where a group of about 15 area high school kids have gathered for an impromptu basketball game. A handful of their peers lounge in the balcony, watching as their friends goof off in-between shots. Soon, though, the teenagers hit the sidelines and call it quits. The gym has been reserved by a campus group.
Students, faculty and alumni converge on the well-worn brick building that has served as a fixture on campus for over 60 years. With Homecoming in full-swing, Johnson University has played host to a plethora of reunions and get-togethers this week, but the Old Gym is the last place anyone would expect to see a diverse gathering of old friends— old friends with light-hearted grudges— on a Wednesday night at 9 p.m.
The two small LED scoreboards on opposing walls light up and a flurry of activity breaks out as the countdown to zero begins. Portable nets are erected at each end of the court and alumni dressed in white, students dressed in blue, take practice shots at fully equipped goal-keepers. Floor hockey, as the participants call it, is about to begin.
Onlookers fill the spectator gallery. Old Testament Professor and hockey enthusiast Steve Cook readies a stat sheet and referees dressed in pin-stripe black and white prepare to officiate. This isn’t Intramurals. This isn’t your usual Wednesday night pick-up play. This is the much anticipated 2016 Alumni-Student Game.
As far as competition and excitement go, the annual match-up that pits graduates against students rivals the Battle for the Frances Cup, the fall intramural championship game. Since 2010, each year during Homecoming the captain from the winning intramural team gets to select an elite squad of students to face the alumni in an annual show-down.
With three wins, (one in a shootout) two losses and a tie, heading into the night the alumni lead the series with seven standing points to the student’s six. All wins count for two points while ties and shootout losses count for one. As Frances Cup winner and student captain Tate Abernathy huddles his team together before the game, he knows that this could be the year they pull ahead. An out-right win would give them the series lead.
Tyson Chastain, a 2000 graduate and alumni team-member, remembers hockey on campus in its fledgling stages.
“Just as best I can remember,” Chastain said with a nostalgic smile, “I think it was 1996 when myself and two or three other Johnson students who had an interest in hockey just started beating around a tennis ball in the Old Gym or what have you. As time went on, we got a couple more guys involved. In the early days, it was just playing with tennis balls and sticks.”
Though Chastain admits to being a little fuzzy on the details, he says that somewhere along the line, the school began supporting the game— supplying goals, goalie equipment and regulation orange balls for intramural competition. Eventually, the Frances Cup Championship was born in 2004. Later on, goalie Abigail Brunsman Lindsey suggested an alumni game.
“This student right here,” Steve Cook explained, pointing to Lindsey’s picture in a yearbook, “played off and on throughout her time here and she graduated in 2009. A few months later as she was planning to come back for Homecoming, she said something about ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a game of students versus alumni?'”
Cook, who has been active in intramural floor hockey since soon after coming to work at Johnson in 2003, contacted alumni, discussed the plan with students and put into action the first iteration of the Alumni-Student Game at Homecoming 2010. Since then, the competition has become a mainstay on campus for floor hockey enthusiasts with a winner declared each year, with the exception of 2012, when the Old Gym’s electricity failed during the first intermission. That game was declared the only tie in the series.
A crowd of mostly current students packs the seating area of the Old Gym as three 12-minute periods of intense action unfold. Tension fills the room as play remains scoreless until midway through the second period when 2009 Graduate Jason Schimke collects a rebound and slings the ball into the goal. His wife and children cheer from the stands as he thrusts a fist into the air in celebration. Two more alumni score back-to-back goals at the start of the third period, taking the life out of the crowd and seemingly assuring a win.
Three minutes remain in the game when Tate Abernathy heroically finds the back of the net after an earlier goal by teammate Jason Resciniti, cutting the alumni lead to one. With victory again in sight, the crowd goes wild until a whistle blows, waiving the score. The building erupts with booing over the unpopular, yet fair, off-sides call. Unable to score again, the student team concedes 3-1 to the alumni, who increase their standing points to nine, forcing the students to wait at least two more years before they can hope to gain bragging rights.
Following the fierce competition, the two sides shook hands before catching up over a relaxed pick-up game. With the atmosphere less tense, junior Jason Resciniti, the lone goal-scorer for the students, summed up the spirit of the night.
“Its a good time for the students and the alumni to come together and enjoy the fact that we both come from the same institution— we’re both from the same place. It’s just fellowship, and that’s really all it is,” Resciniti said. “Would I have liked to have won? Yeah, that would have been phenomenal. But, you know what? It’s really a good time to just come together with the alumni. These are a lot of guys we see once a year just for this game. We know that years ago they were doing the same stuff here that we were doing, and it’s just a good time.”
The tradition continues at Homecoming next year.