The Whittier College Football Team earned their first win in over two years due to Occidental College’s team having to forfeit the Homecoming game scheduled for this Saturday. This forfeit can be seen as an advantage for the Poets, ending their winless drought and bringing home Myron Claxton’s bronzed cleats, better known as The Shoes, back to Whittier College. Although the Poets have the win, the cancelation of the game disappointed the Whittier College Football Team.
The second-largest rivalry game west of the Mississippi in Division III is the annual Battle for the Shoes. Tensions have been brewing between the Poets and the Occidental Tigers because of this trophy. As of now, the advantage goes to the Tigers — they hold a one-game edge in the trophy games, 38-36 record, and lead 57-51 in the overall matchup.
“When I went to school here , we used to have pep-rallies before football games on Friday nights,” Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Lance Franey said. “There’s been bad things. They were burning a tiger for one of the pep-rallies we had. [Occidental] would color the “W” in with tiger stripes, even change the wording where it said Penns [near the field]. It used to always go back and forth, and people would just mess around like that.”
The Shoes go back to when Myron Claxton, an All-American running back for the Poets in the 1940s, had his cleats stolen from his locker room just before a match up against Occidental. Claxton’s shoes were stolen by a few members of the Occidental’s Football Team and held captive on the Tigers’ sideline, forcing Claxton to perform in his work boots. Despite the stolen shoes, the Poets managed to come out that game with a 36-0 victory against the Tigers.
After the game, Claxton walked to the Tigers’ sideline and grabbed his shoes. Claiming he was “bringing home” his shoes, the All-American ball player brought them back over to their rightful side. Several years later, members of the Orthogonian Society, which Claxton was a member of, would have his shoes bronzed and the historical battles for those shoes began.
Unfortunately, this year’s historical matchup would have to be cancelled with no plans of rescheduling. Occidental forfeited the rest of their season due to injuries and shortage of players. As a result, the Poets will win the game and The Shoes, but will lose the chance to play in their final home game. “This counts as a win for us,” said Franey. “[It]counts as a non-conference game, not a conference game, but we still get the win against them.”
If the matchup went on as scheduled, the Poets would have hosted the trophy matchup in their final home game of the 2017 season. “Considering the rivalry between us and [Occidental], the game would have been huge and something that means a lot to alumni as well,” said fourth-year wide receiver Bryson Sanders. “Competing for and winning The Shoes is something that every Whittier Football player should experience. Being that it was Senior night, homecoming, and the Shoes game, it was easily going to be the biggest game of my career, so, needless to say, it hurts.”
Shocked by the decision, Poet players spoke their frustration. “We are all disappointed by the cancellation of this game — especially for the seniors on our team,” Executive Director of Athletics Robert Coleman said.
“It’s a heartbreaker, and I think it’s unfair,” said third-year offensive lineman Damyen Davis.
“It’s a disappointment. [It’s] something I’ve been looking forward to since my freshman year,” said an anonymous player.
Whittier College had a similar situation with their football program in 2015. Even with a low amount of players, the team still managed to lace up their cleats, walk onto the field, and perform.
“We easily had just as many injuries as [Occidental] has this year. We didn’t choose to cancel our season then and would have hoped [Occidental] could have done the same. It really is an embarrassment to our whole Conference and the NCAA as a whole. With that said, I hope they can get it together and continue to have a football program because it would sicken me to see our rivalry ended because the management issues they are having over there,” said Sanders.
Although Whittier has finally ended their losing streak, a hardfought victory with four quarters against their division rivals was all Whittier was looking forward to. As of Saturday’s event, Whittier will earn their first win in over two years. This “win’ boosts the Poets 1-6, but keeps their overall conference record the same. To many players, this win does not mean anything.
“Regardless of how it happened, it feels good to bring The Shoes back to Whittier. For the younger guys, they don’t miss out on the experience of the rivalry and for some of the older guys, we get to have The Shoes in our possession as we go out, which is what every Poet wants,” said Sanders.
Occidental College took to social media, captioning a photo on Twitter, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” As the Tigers try to regroup for next season, Poets have an extra week to prepare for their next game on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. when they take on the University of Redlands. The Men’s Football team hopes to earn the hard-fought victory they felt was taken from them.