Andover-Exeter Weekend Celebrates 127 Year-Old Rivalry

In its earlier days, the Andover-Exeter rivalry was just a friendly game of football. Today, the oldest secondary school rivalry in the nation has evolved into a three-day series of much more than just athletics. Now in its 127th year, the day-long Saturday battle between Big Blue and Big Red has begun at Andover with Exeter Geek Day since the early 1990s. The focal point in the week leading up to Saturday’s athletic competitions, Exeter Geek Day gave students the opportunity to showcase their geekiest red attire. Friday, students celebrated Blue Day decked out in blue clothing. Friday night’s pep rally will culminate the two days of festivities. Despite this consistency in events leading up to the athletic showdown between the nation’s oldest preparatory schools, the celebration surrounding the rivalry changes almost every year. Last year, instead of just Exeter Geek and Blue Days, the Blue Key Heads opted for an entire week of spirit days. Director of Student Activities Cindy Efinger said that this year the Blue Key Heads decided against a full spirit week because “[they] realized that kids got tired of an entire week of spirit days and that we were losing momentum rather than gaining momentum.” Another change from last year’s celebrations will be the absence of fireworks, which Ms. Efinger attributed to the cost. According to Ms. Efinger, the cost of last year’s and the previous year’s display of fireworks was approximately $24,000. Originally added as a special celebration for the Academy’s 225th year anniversary, the fireworks were shown both years, paid for by a single anonymous donor. Although Ms. Efinger said that future fireworks shows could become a rotating event that would take place approximately every four years, she personally felt that the fireworks were “a little too much for high school.” In line with Ms. Efinger’s opinion, the school did not solicit any donors to fund a show of fireworks for this year’s competitions. There are many differences between the celebrations of recent years and those of the past. During the 1960s and 1970s, the competition between Andover and Exeter was primarily centered around the football game. Building up to this game was an all-school gathering in George Washington Hall for the singing of an Andover-Exeter competition song, which, according to Douglas Pirnie ’65, started off “o’er the fields, there’s a Blue wave rolling.” Mr. Pirnie also said that in addition to the singing of this song, the captain of the football team would address the school in front of Samuel Phillips Hall. “[Dormitories created] creative banners that weren’t too scatological about what we thought about the Exies,” continued Mr. Pirnie. He added, “One of my years at Andover, a plane carrying a ‘Beat Exeter’ sign flew over the football game.” Besides the events that build up to the Andover-Exeter contests, another integral part of the competitions has been the practice of pranking. Two years ago, the residents of Andover Cottage refilled almost 1000 wrappers of Wrigley’s Big Red with chewed versions of the gum and then put these wrappers along with promises to “chew up” Exeter into individual envelopes. The were envelopes were deposited in Exeter dormitory common rooms by Peter Stetson ’03, who biked the 30 miles to the Phillips Exeter Academy campus and back. In 2000, a group of Andover students managed to infest Exeter’s library with 60 mice, which they had dyed blue, forcing the library to close temporarily. Unlike Stetson and the boys of Andover Cottage, the four responsible for the implanting of the mice were subject to disciplinary repercussions. The most recent prank played on Andover took place in 2002. A group of Exeter students spray painted the then brand new Phelps Stadium with an “E” and also spray-painted an “A” over the field’s 50-yard line. That same fall, Exeter students also spread headless bodies of codfish all over the Phillips Academy campus and put the heads of the fish around the Memorial Bell Tower. Although the pranksters were never caught, Exeter bore the responsibility of the costs of an emergency repainting the morning of the football game. In retaltion, Andover’s Blue Key Heads, who had to clean up the fish left around campus, put the garbage bags full of dead fish on Exeter’s busses, giving the Big Red a nice surprise for the ride home.