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From the Archives: A history of the senior marshmallow toss

This past weekend, Notre Dame’s football game against Boston College featured an abundance of fluffy white objects flying through the air. A number of these objects were, of course, snowflakes; but following tradition, seniors also celebrated their final home football game by throwing marshmallows en masse.

This week, From the Archives looks at the history of the senior marshmallow toss. The origin of this tradition is, as evident in the heated debate on internet forums, still unclear. However, Observer reporting over the years captures the ubiquitous controversy surrounding the student deployment of projectiles — which, in the past, have included not just harmless marshmallows but treacherous toilet paper and harmful aquatic animals. Ultimately, the stories below reveal the extremes to which seniors will go to participate in the tossing of objects and commemorate (or perhaps lament) their final Notre Dame football game.

The obscure origins of the senior marshmallow tradition

Sept. 13, 1989 | Janice Archer | Nov. 16, 1989 | James Otteson | Nov. 19, 2007 | Joseph McMahon | ND Nation Discussion Board | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

This past weekend during the football contest between Notre Dame and Boston College, a careful spectator would have observed members of the senior class participating in a student tradition whose origins are wrapped in ambiguity: the senior marshmallow toss. 

Some claim the tradition began in the 1970s with students tossing rolls of toilet paper. Others point to its origin in the late 1980s when Notre Dame students threw marshmallows and oranges onto the field, in apparent anticipation of an expected Orange Bowl bid in 1989.

Mention of the “marshmallow wars,” however, first appeared in the Observer on Sept. 13, 1989. Referring to Notre Dame’s final home game of the 1988 season, Janice Archer wrote that at halftime “marshmallows flew in the rain as students hurled them at one another.”

According to Archer, the “sticky fun” of the marshmallow toss was coordinated by a newly-formed club named Irish Insanity. Erich Straub ‘90 founded the club in the prior year, citing his desire to create a “single pep club” that would match Notre Dame’s “unparalleled” student body.

Though the official origin of the marshmallow tradition is unclear, the earliest Observer reporting on the “marshmallow wars” came in 1989 in reference to the new Irish Insanity club (pictured above), which coordinated a halftime marshmallow toss at a 1988 football game against Penn State. Observer archives, Sept. 13, 1989.

Not all, however, shared an appreciation for the new marshmallow tradition. In a Letter to the Editor, James Otteson argued that students who were “fervently throwing marshmallows and cups at each other” demonstrated that “they were unable to act responsibly on their own.”

Otteson believed that the administration should have acted after Irish Insanity “coach[ed] the students before the game in preparation for the marshmallow wars.”

Despite some viewing the marshmallow toss as immature or wasteful, many seniors see the tradition as an innocent way to celebrate their last home football game as students. After a disappointing 2007 season where Notre Dame’s first and only home victory came on senior day, Nick Ransom ‘08 shared that he enjoyed the marshmallow tradition “even more so because nobody cared about the game that much.”

While current and future seniors certainly do not hope that the marshmallow wars will be the defining memory as a student cheering in Notre Dame Stadium, this year’s edition of the marshmallow tradition provided a sweet reward to a string of Notre Dame victories.

Not just marshmallows: A brief history of other objects thrown at Notre Dame football games

 Oct. 12, 1977 | Letter to Editor | Nov. 5, 1998 | Spencer Stefko | Nov. 2, 1998 | Michelle Krupa | May 14, 1999 | Tim Logan | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

While the current projectile of choice for Notre Dame seniors is the marshmallow, an assortment of other objects have historically been thrown around the student section.

As early as 1977, students were tossing toilet paper rolls as a means of entertainment and humor at Notre Dame football games and pep rallies. Students claimed they intended it in good fun, though some took offense when cheerleaders were hit at a pep rally.

In response to this violent act, the University made one of its first efforts to minimize the throwing of projectiles at football-related events by issuing a statement telling the students to stop.

To no one’s surprise, students did not always listen to administrative authority. One especially bold student, Robert Jacques, sarcastically wrote in a letter to the editor about the efficacy of University statements: “Of course, local retailers will be forbidden the right to sell papers to ND students.”

The toilet paper proved to be the least of the University’s concerns in the following decades, though. In 1998, sea life began to make its way into Notre Dame Stadium.

A student flaunts an octopus during a 1998 football game, indicating the extreme evolution of the senior marshmallow toss. Observer archives, Nov. 2, 1998.

Reports of squids, fish and frogs being thrown at football games became somewhat common in the late 1990s. Most agreed that the line had been crossed but perpetrators were hard to identify.

At the same time, ushers began cracking down on marshmallows being brought into games as students had begun stuffing the sugar blobs with coins and golf tees in order to add weight to their projectiles and achieve a further throw.

Marshmallow violators were often ejected, but the aquatic life hurlers were never identified. The debauchery reached its peak in 1998 when a frog hit a 10-year-old girl in the face and resulted in severe lacerations.

A student flings a frog during halftime of an October 1998 football game versus Baylor. The increased use of marine projectiles that season induced multiple injuries, with victims including a 10-year-old girl. Observer archives, April 14, 1999.

Chuck Hurley, assistant director of Notre Dame Security tried to put an end to such actions and simultaneously salvage the University’s reputation, saying, “This is really out of character for Notre Dame.”

Yet, Colleen Killina, a Saint Mary’s senior in 1998, put student attitudes about the projectile launching tradition best: “People are still going to do it no matter what [the punishment is].”

Killina’s prediction has proven quite astute in regard to the marshmallows, although it has been over two decades since marine life was thrown at a football game.

Marshmallows become cause for ejections 

Oct. 17, 2003 | Scott Brodfuehrer | Nov. 20, 2003  | Matthew Klobucher, Ryan Gagnet, Kevin Conley and John McCarthy | Nov. 21, 2005 | Maddie Hanna | Researched by Lilyann Gardner

The annual senior marshmallow toss has always been about fun and games for Notre Dame students, but stadium ushers and personnel have been tasked year after year with shutting down these antics. 

Ushers under the direction of Cappy Gagnon, coordinator of stadium personnel, ejected hundreds of students throughout the football seasons of the early 2000s as stadium personnel believed that students were stuffing the marshmallows with small items such as pennies and golf tees.

Notre Dame seniors throw marshmallows at the last football game of the 2005 season, a contest at which 43 students were ejected for participating in the traditional tossing. Observer archives, Nov. 21, 2005.

“Gagnon said that his ushers, in addition to Notre Dame Security/Police officers, would be looking for ‘ringleaders’ during half time — students who are throwing a large amount of marshmallows,” wrote Scott Brodfuehrer (‘04). “However, he would not rule out the possibility that a student who threw just one marshmallow could be ejected.” 

The University claimed that all of these ejections were a necessary measure to prevent potential injuries or damage to NBC’s camera equipment, but several students shared that it was ridiculous to have a handful of students take the fall for the many participants. 

“It is hard to imagine more harmless things to throw, and we find it hard to believe that many students have been harboring such injurious designs of their peers by hiding by concealing coins and rocks within,” wrote seniors Matthew Klobucher, Ryan Gagnet, Kevin Conley and John McCarthy.

The aforementioned students from Stanford and Keough Halls shared their frustration with Gagnon’s policies after two of their companions were kicked out the 2003 BYU game. The seniors stated that an usher had ensured that their friends would not be removed if they ceased throwing the marshmallows but that the same usher returned with his captain later and ejected them anyway. 

More marshmallow action from the 2005 Syracuse game. Observer archives, Nov. 21, 2005.

The two seniors, however, were not the only individuals betrayed by the ushers, as students have continued to be ejected over the years. The final game of the 2005 season against Syracuse resulted in 43 ejections due to marshmallow-related incidents according to an Observer report by Assistant News Editor Maddie Hanna (‘08).

The number of ejections has fluctuated over time, but it is apparent that these ejections, although bothersome, have done little to deter the marshmallow fight from occurring: marshmallows were once again tossed this past weekend during a snowy final game of the season.

Contact Spencer Kelly at skelly25@nd.edu.

Thomas Dobbs at tdobbs@nd.edu.

Cade Czarnecki at cczarne3@nd.edu.

Lilyann Gardner at lgardne2@nd.edu.

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