December 5, 2021

Capital and Otterbein’s historical rivalry explored

Capital and Otterbein have a long-running rivalry dating back to the 1890s that has resulted in arson, vandalism and even the tragic death of a student

Although it has settled down, the rivalry is still alive today. 

According to a paper written by Otterbein’s Susan DeLay in 1975, which narrates the history of the rivalry between the schools, the rivalry began back in the 1890s, when Capital and Otterbein used to have canoe races from Alum Creek to Columbus.

The arrival of football to the schools grew the rivalry even more. 

The morning before a Capital vs. Otterbein football game in 1927, the Otterbein stadium was burned to the ground. 

The fire caused $1,500 worth of damage. Before the fire, a rumor had been spreading throughout the student body that the stadium might be burned, causing authorities to believe the fire was premeditated.

The game still took place despite the fire, resulting in an Otterbein win. The defacement of the schools’ campuses did not simply end with the fire. 

In 1948, 14 Otterbein students were suspended for painting on Capital’s buildings.

Later in the year, the tension between the two was at an all-time high, when there was a paint throwing fight between a car of Otterbein students and a car of Capital students, which resulted in a serious accident. 

The most tragic part of the rivalry occurred in 1950, when Robert N. Buck from Otterbein and three fraternity brothers attempted to canoe down Alum Creek to visit Capital’s campus before a game.

The canoe ran into a tree limb and was flipped over. The three fraternity brothers were able to swim to shore, but Buck drowned. 

The tragedy shocked both the school’s students and faculty. While the rivalry continued, this may have been what made it simmer down.

However, the rivalry still continued decades later. 

One early morning before a game in 1969, a group of Otterbein students vandalized buildings on Capital’s campus by painting obscenities on the walls and burning Otterbein’s initials “OC” in the grass. 

Both administrations tried to end the rivalry, but were unsuccessful.

The Comets and the Cardinals face off at Capital’s 2021 homecoming game. Photo taken by Robert Cumberlander.

Dixie Jeffers, Capital’s interim athletic director and women’s basketball coach, discussed what the rivalry is like today. 

“It’s every kind of rivalry, every kind of sporting event atmosphere that you want, so it’s very charged, very animated, and both teams know it’s that pride piece that we’re all fighting for and the bragging rights,” Jeffers said. 

While the rivalry has become more civil in recent years, the antics may not be completely behind us. 

“I’ve seen confrontations at the end of games, I’ve seen coaches of ours cars’ vandalized, I’ve seen the field vandalized pre-game/pre-contest and so forth,” Jeffers said. 

One tradition from the rivalry is being revived this year: The Oars. Back in 1932, the presentation of a trophy to the winning team began. The oars represent the Alum Creek canoe races. 

“One thing our alumni wanted to do was hang on to some of our traditions and…and our history,” Jeffers said. “So we went back to the 1900s, and the oars are something I heard about when I first came here 30-something years ago, so I thought this is great… and I said we need to revitalize the oars.” 

John Tansey, Otterbein’s director of biochemistry and molecular biology, gave his thoughts on the rivalry. 

“It’s pretty high energy; it’s clearly a rivalry. I don’t know that either school has always had the best team, it’s varied from year to year, but it’s a game that people get up for. It’s like any good rivalry,” Tansey said. “I think it’s great that we have rivalries like that… you know I’m a Red Sox fan and a Crew fan, so obviously we have a bunch of rivalries there, so I think that’s always fun.”

Although the long lasting rivalry between Capital and Otterbein has gotten out of hand in the past, today the rivalry helps push both schools to their best and create energetic and exciting environments during games for both schools to enjoy.

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