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

Photo Friday: Cranbrook Hockey, Football-style

Image

Cranbrook School hockey practice on the football oval, 1928. Cranbrook Archives.

Hockey at Cranbrook has a long tradition, but it didn’t always have a home.  In 1928, the Cranbrook School hockey team found itself with two out of the three elements necessary for a successful game.  Eager players, check.  Required equipment, check (minus helmets, apparently).  Ice rink?  Not so much.  Always resourceful, however, the team made do, holding practices on the iced-over Cranbrook football field.  Things have changed since then; now the team plays at Wallace Arena, and they tend to wear helmets as well.

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