EA Day 2023: rivalry unites community

The student fan section erupts near the end of football’s 21-19 win over EA, November 12, 2022 – Communications

The school website describes EA Day as “a tradition of sportsmanship and competition that spans decades. Alumni, parents, and students gather to cheer on their school’s team. For students, it marks a day of competition against an archrival and the close of the fall sports season.” 

History is filled with stories of rivalries. From the political to the personal to the athletic, competing against a rival brings a heightened sense of passion and intensity. EA Day harnesses the best of what competition can bring out in a community. But where did it all begin?

According to Index archives, Haverford joined the Inter-Ac in 1888, but less than twenty years later pulled out of the league due to concerns that athletics were a distraction to academics.

It was not until 1921 that Haverford rejoined the league, with the Haverford/EA rivalry building thereafter. Football, soccer, and cross country were the initial three competitions between the schools. Water polo was added in 2003 and golf in 2011.

The appeal of EA as a rival seems to stem from the commonalities between the school and student populations. The best rivals are worthy opponents, and though at times painful to admit, EA teams are worthy of respect. Sports reporter Billy Ray, writing in The Bleacher Report, notes that “A good rivalry demands an opponent worthy of respect and one that will generate a genuine sense of accomplishment when a hard-fought victory is attained.” 

It was not until the 1980s that the prize sweater was introduced. The sweater, split in half with each school’s colors sewn together, is the annual prize, coveted by each community for year-long bragging rights. And while Haverford’s 19 wins over EA’s 16 wins are celebrated, and the sweater hanging in Wilson Hall is cherished—win or lose—the rivalry with EA has long shaped the school’s identity and culture.

Celebrations surrounding EA Day have evolved over time. At one point in the 1970s, each school would visit the other in the days ahead of the competition. EA students would take the train from Merion Station to Haverford and march down Lancaster Avenue to the school. Haverford students would form a parade of cars that would drive to EA’s campus (then on City Line Avenue), escorted by Lower Merion police.

There are stories of pep rallies, bonfires, and the smashing of an old car brought to campus. In one image from the archives, a plane flies over campus pulling a banner that reads: GO FORDS—BEAT EA. There are even stories of a time when students from Agnes Irwin and The Baldwin School served as cheerleaders for EA Day events.

Times and traditions have evolved. Now the lead-up to the competition is celebrated with Spirit Week and joint community service activities.

What has not changed is how the rivalry with EA builds a sense of community and connection. Year after year, both schools dedicate significant time, energy, and resources to the day’s competitions.  

Head of School Mr. Tyler Casertano places the rivalry into the context of human history.

 “The first known board game was invented by the Sumerians over 4,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks created the Olympics over 2,500 years ago. Indigenous populations in Mesoamerica developed a ball game over 4,000 years ago that is still played today,” Mr. Casertano said. “There is a part of us that is hardwired for entertainment and competition.”

Mr. Casertano also said, “Athletics are an important way that we build community. The support you all show for each other by attending competitions, and the camaraderie that you build through attending those events together, helps bring us together as a community. That is most evident on EA Day, when thousands of students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni all come to campus to support our teams. It is a remarkable demonstration of community.”

The Sweater sitting outside the Wilson Hall administrative offices – Pierce Laveran ’24

Athletic Director Mr. Michael Murphy agrees.

“I think that we are captivated by rivalries because first and foremost they tend to be an annual occurrence. So like holidays or other annual events, they hold a special place in the year that becomes something we look forward to and mark the passing of time. But it is also because of the familiarity of the opponent, with which comes strong emotions which are often based on mutual respect,” Mr. Murphy said. “Even if dislike is part of the emotion, respect is often at the core.”

The benefit of rivalries and the appeal of EA Day for Haverford, at its essence, is about how we connect as a community.

Upper School Head Mr. Mark Fifer said, “People inherently seek this kind of social connection and want to be part of something bigger than the individual self.”

“When you add something you can see and touch—like a sweater—I believe the rivalry takes on a whole new dimension of passion, pride, and intensity.”

Golf Program Director Mr. Stephen Cloran

Third Form Dean and golf program director Mr. Stephen Cloran believes that the legacy of EA Day contributes value to the school community.

 “The more we learn about the rivalry and hear the stories about the rivalry, the more they become personal and the more they then matter.  When you add something you can see and touch—like a sweater—I believe the rivalry takes on a whole new dimension of passion, pride, and intensity,” Mr. Cloran said.

Most people have at least one rivalry they can remember. Even as time passes, the passion around the rivalry remains.

When asked about rivalries from his own schooling, Mr. Cloran recalls being an athlete in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast Catholic High School was his school’s rival. “To this day, when I think of Bonner, say the word Bonner, and drive by Bonner, my heart rate rises, and my competitive juices start flowing.”

Mr. Casertano also remembers his high school rivalries. “What I remember most from those experiences is the people; how many came back to campus to experience that day, and how special it felt to compete in front of them,” Mr. Castertano said. “Seeing so many people there to support our teams reminded me of how proud they were of our school, and in turn filled me with pride.”

Mr. Murphy recalls being the quarterback in his school’s rivalry with Pennridge High School, which he recalls being one of the oldest continuous high school rivalries in PA.  

“My senior year was played in front of 6,000 people, and we won 20-6 to end a Pennridge win streak,” Mr. Murphy said. “That is a memory that the team will have forever.”

If the memories of these school leaders’ own youthful rivalries are any indication, the rivalry with the Episcopal Academy will be long remembered by current students.