Completion of the ritual last year took 1 hour, 32 minutes and 42 seconds.
The Washington Post reports that the US Naval Academy may soon be losing its plebe year culminating ritual when the mass scrimmage is condemned by the authorities as “unsafe.”
In the name of safety, the U.S. Naval Academy is considering an overhaul of one of its most bizarre traditions: the annual ritual in which a thousand first-year midshipmen struggle to conquer a 21-foot granite obelisk coated with 200 pounds of lard.
The Herndon Climb has occupied a hallowed place in Naval Academy tradition for decades. For members of the plebe class, the climb represents what a former midshipman called “our final exam of all finals.” The starter gun fires, and the plebes, working together, race to replace a blue-rimmed sailor’s cap, known as a “dixie cup,” with a midshipman’s cap.
The scene is unforgettable to those who watch, as the sweating, grunting, red-faced midshipmen at the bottom, their arms linked, support a human pyramid surging to the top of the monument. The pyramid often collapses, but the plebes invariably make it to the top whether it takes them minutes or hours.
But at the ever-changing academy, the climb may be going the way of the sailing ship and the smoothbore cannon.
“Similar to how our Navy looks at all traditions in the Fleet, we are evaluating the Herndon Monument Climb to ensure the event remains a valid part of our heritage but it is conducted with professionalism, respect, and most important, safety in mind,” the academy’s public affairs office said in a statement.
It is unclear what changes might be imposed. This year’s climb is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 15.
Deborah Goode, a spokeswoman for the academy, said that she could not recall any serious injuries resulting from the Herndon Climb and that the reevaluation was part of a broader reconsideration of the end-of-year events for plebes.
Alumni scoffed at the risk of someone’s getting hurt, especially given the school’s mission to prepare officers for combat.
Yale use to have a similar male-bonding event, the annual bladderball game, banned by President Bartlett Giamatti in a fit of politically correct namby-pambyness in 1982.