The Day Cranbrook Went Bananas

You probably know Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School has a football team, and you might remember that the Detroit Lions held training camps here in the 1970s, but did you also know that Cranbrook Academy of Art is an undefeated intercollegiate football team?

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell.

Homecoming Queen Barbara Tiso takes a convertible ride around the field with Academy President Wallace Mitchell. Cranbrook Archives.

As The Cranbrook Magazine reported in the Winter 1971 issue, “Before winter zeroed in [the Academy] had a rousing football weekend similar in events, at least, to those at large universities that specialize in such things.” There was a bonfire pep rally, organized cheering sections, a Homecoming Queen, the game itself with a halftime show from both schools, and a victory banquet.

Sculpture head Michael Hall regarded the weekend as a conceptual art project, and said “as spectacle, pageant, formation and participation football is a direct parallel to art forms as disparate as the Baroque Mass and Alan Kaprow’s ‘Soapsuds Event’.”

The idea for a game began after conversations between Hall and a colleague at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The students at both schools accepted the challenge, and Cranbrook’s bucolic suburban setting (replete with Thompson Oval) seemed the idea location.

The game of flag football was covered by newspapers in Detroit and Chicago, with radio DJ’s in Detroit billing the game on Cranbrook School’s field as a season highlight. Cranbrook’s seventy-six male students were augmented with faculty and Nick Vettraino, groundskeeper. After an extensive (minor) injury list, only twenty players made the roster. I’ll let the Magazine coverage of the game speak for itself:

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy's mascot banana.

Emma Kay Szabados was a big hit as the Academy’s mascot banana. It is unclear why we were the bananas. Cranbrook Archives.

“Hog Butchers and Bananas were noticeably self-conscious when they trotted onto the field. But as the game progressed and the crowd of 300 cheered vociferously, players and spectators alike were caught up in the spirit of true athletic competition.

Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

Quarterback George Sorrels used a “flexible formation from the pro set,” allegedly adapted from Detroit Lions plays by Coach Mel Baker. Cranbrook Archives.

“Cranbrook grabbed an early lead on the swift running of Nick Vettraino and the spectacular pass catching of Dick Ewen. But the Hog Butchers kept fighting back.

the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

The crowd going wild as Cranbrook marches on to victory. Notice Gerhardt Knodel, Artist-in-Residence of the Fiber department (and future Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art) in the foreground. Cranbrook Archives.

 

“As darkness descended Cranbrook led 27-25 with time left for just one play. Chicago tried a field goal that would bring victory. The kick failed, and the pro-Bananas crowd flocked onto the field and hoisted heroes onto their shoulders.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers.

Patrick and Mary Mitchell, son and wife of Academy President Wallace Mitchell, manned the sideline markers. Cranbrook Archives.

“Art or not, it was a helluva weekend. And after it was all over the campus was permeated with a camaraderie never seen before in Academy history.”

As the Upper School kicks off its season against U of D Jesuit tonight, I’d like to wish everyone a happy football season (Go Cranes!) and welcome Schools and Academy students back to campus. Perhaps we will see a rematch of the Bananas and the Hog Butchers on the gridiron soon? If so, there’s a new press box from which to call the game. I volunteer to provide color commentary!

Kevin Adkisson, Curatorial Associate

The Story of a Sweater: 1930-1953

As fall fast approaches and the nights are cooler, all Michiganders are pulling out their jackets and sweaters. Cranbrook School for Boys (as it was once known) had, over the years a variety of sweaters made for the boys to wear, particularly if they were involved in athletics. Although Cranbrook Archives primary collects manuscript collections and institutional records, sometimes we are lucky enough to acquire objects that relate to our past, particularly that of the schools. The Cranbrook Sweater is one such object.

First featured in a team photo for the 1930-31 basketball team, it was a signature uniform for the basketball team photo for the next 22 years. Throughout Cranbrook School’s sports history, athletes on the basketball team, golf team, wrestling team, hockey team, football team, and baseball team all wore the sweater.  Beginning in the 1934-35 season, members of the golf team wore the sweater.

As time passed, the sweater gained increasing momentum in its popularity and peaked among the athletes in the 1940s. However, aside from the basketball team and golf team photos (where the sweater was worn by the entire team), most of the other team photos show only one or two members wearing the sweater for the team photo.  This could be due to the fact that the sweater is made of 100% wool!

Gradually, the sweater lost popularity and by the end of the 1953 school year, it faded out altogether. We are lucky to be caretakers of such a great piece of history, and the type of object that current school students love to see on their visits to the Archives.

Donald Leighton (far left in the photo below) is shown wearing the sweater in our collection.

Golf team 1935-36.

Golf team 1935-36.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

Football Friday

The campus is getting ready to welcome students back to school in a couple of weeks. However, many athletic teams, including the Crane football team, have already started practicing and even had a pre-season scrimmage yesterday at the Thompson Oval. Many people might not know that the Detroit Lions held their Training Camp on the Cranbrook campus from 1934-1941 and from 1957-1974.

Newspaper article from 7 Aug 1960.

Article from the Detroit News, 7 Aug 1960.

Note for Sports Fans: the Cranes’ first league game is against Cabrini High School on September 3rd.  The Lions play their first regular season game on September 13th.

A view of the Cranbrook School Athletic field. Photographer Taro Yamasaki, Cranbrook Archives.

A view of the Cranbrook School Athletic field. Photographer Taro Yamasaki, Cranbrook Archives.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

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