The chorus of the 1893-94 spirit song, “Line up quickly! Line up briskly! Line up white and blue! Exeter we have always beaten, that again we’ll do,” rang out at that year’s Andover/Exeter Day. Over a century later, the spirit of that rivalry is still alive—this Saturday, students will take buses to Phillips Exeter Academy to chant alongside Blue Key Heads and cheer on their classmates.
The athletic rivalry between Andover and Exeter began on May 22, 1878 when a team of 14 Andover baseball players traveled to Exeter. Despite suffering an 11-1 loss, Andover beat Exeter 10-8 in another baseball game only ten days later, according to “Athletics for All: Physical Education and Athletics at Phillips Academy, Andover” by Fred H. Harrison.
This athletic rivalry has since extended to other sports. The football rivalry between Andover and Exeter, which began in 1878, is the oldest preparatory high school football rivalry in the country. In their very first football game, Andover beat Exeter 22-0, according to the Official Photo Gallery of Andover.
The schools’ similarities and the fact that they were both founded by the Phillips family later made them suitable athletic rivals, according to Harrison.
“It was… natural that Andover and Exeter should start competing against each other at a very early date in the history of interscholastic sports, and that relationship thus established should have developed into the oldest continuous independent school rivalry in the country,” wrote Harrison.
The historic rivalry, however, is not free from scandal and controversy. In 1893, the Andover football team entered the annual match against Exeter as the only team that had scored against Harvard that season (Andover used to play both collegiate and preparatory teams). That year, the storied rivalry between Andover and Exeter and the increased national interest in football attracted over 5,000 people to the Andover/Exeter game, according to the Official Photo Gallery of Andover.
Once Andover lost the match 26-10, people suspected that the Exeter quarterback, who scored 25 points for his team, was a professional athlete. A further investigation into both teams’ rosters revealed revealed that the Exeter quarterback was “Pooch” Donovan, an ex-athlete for the Barnum and Bailey Circus and a track coach at Worcester Academy, according to andover.edu.
Once the information was revealed, the Andover student body unanimously voted to stop participation in athletic games with Exeter. Until 1896, the Andover/Exeter rivalry came to a halt.
According to andover.edu, this decision drew national news; the headline of the front page of the November 27, 1893 Boston Globe paper read “A Bombshell! Phillips Andover and Phillips Exeter in Conflict.” In December, even future President Teddy Roosevelt, then a politician, weighed in.
Roosevelt said, “If it be true that one of the Exeter team of schoolboys has played this year with three professionals, grown men, admitted in the school for the sole purpose of playing football, then this team and academy should be cut off from all athletic intercourse.”
After Andover elected to conclude games with Exeter, Andover attempted to convert The Lawrenceville School into an athletic rival in the time period close to 1896; the pairing did not work since Lawrenceville was too far away and trumped Andover whenever they faced off, according to the Official Photo Gallery of Andover. On November 7, 1896 after public encouragement from the Yale Daily News and the Harvard Crimson and Exeter’s promise to maintain an ethical athletics program, the Andover Athletic Advisory Committee decided to revive the rivalry, according to andover.edu.
Sophie Liu ’20 believes that the rivalry promotes school spirit and motivates participants and onlookers to represent their respective school in whichever form of competition with added enthusiasm and passion.
“I think it’s really cool that we have this historic rivalry with Exeter that goes all the way back to, basically, the founding of the schools. It’s really cool that it happens in so many different realms of the school experience, like between athletics to fundraising campaigns and academics as well. Having this rivalry gives the school so much more energy and spirit that pushes students to pursue whatever they do with added passion in whatever regard,” said Liu.
Students today still continue to demonstrate excitement regarding the anticipation of seeing “Big Blue” and “Big Red” face off. Blue Key Head Mark Witt ’20 will be playing in his first A/E Day football game this year.
Witt said, “I played JV [football] my freshman year and took two years off, so this is my first varsity football game to play during A/E. I’ve watched the games for all three years so far, and they’re all super exciting, and I’ve loved rushing the field after each one. I’m excited to be on the field for the whole game.”
Witt’s favorite part of A/E Day is seeing the Andover community come together to support Andover’s athletic teams, despite the amount of work that tends to come with the end of the term.
“I think it’s just seeing everyone excited to beat Exeter. Throughout the school year, everyone is busy with their work. And especially with A/E before finals this year, it’s awesome to see everyone wearing blue to cheer for Andover,” said Witt.
The rivalry culture extends beyond the domain of athletics. Last year, both schools elected to participate in an environment sustainability challenge to determine which school could produce less food waste.
This year, Andover and Exeter are challenging each other to see who can motivate the most amount of people to donate to their respective school during a seventy-two hour window. The schools have set up a website where community members can not only give their donations, but also track the each school’s progress in terms of money raised and number of donors involved.
While he hasn’t experienced an Andover/Exeter Day yet, Robert Nicolas ’23 is excited about the opportunity. He has enjoyed spirit week and appreciates the chance to boost student morale.
Nicolas said, “I don’t really have an opinion about the rivalry as of yet. However, I think the effects of the rivalry in the student body is great. By having a fun-filled spirit week followed by a day dedicated to the rivalry is a great way to increase student morale. I don’t have any other things to say about the rivalry besides Go Big Blue!”