Pain for Pastries: Class of '05 Follows 70-Year Tradition in Running for Cake
By Jimmy Swansbrough '03
September 3, 2001
September 3, 2001
At Davidson, having your cake and eating it too requires two fleet feet! On Wednesday, August 22, the college welcomed its freshmen with fun, fellowship, and, of course, the annual Freshman Cake Race.
The cake race has been a part of incoming freshman orientation for more than 70 years. Though temporarily postponed during times of war, this lighthearted event has been a tradition since its inception in 1930 by Pete Whittle '30, the Davidson track coach from 1930-1971. Whittle conceived the race as a means of identifying promising runners in the freshman class for his team.
Since then, it has evolved into a spirited but light-hearted competition for cakes donated by members of the Davidson community. Men and women now run separate races, beginning a few minutes apart over the same course. As runners cross the finish line, they receive order of finish cards, and later select cakes from the display table based on their placement. In this year's running, about 250 young men and women raced to claim about 95 cakes.
This year's female winner was Anna Brew of Gainesville, Fla. Brew, a Norris Scholar and member of the varsity cross country team, covered the 1.6 mile course in 9:06. After selecting a chocolate cake covered with M&M's and white chocolate chips, Brew said, "I wanted that cake so bad I could taste it."
Brew was followed by Kelly Fillnow from Hilton Head, S.C., a member of the varsity tennis team. Her time of 9:20 earned her a cake crafted by an upperclass member of her team, and decorated with miniature pictures of campus buildings on toothpicks. She is pictured here at right with her twin sister, Meghan, who also finished "in the dough."
In addition to (l-r) Brew and Fillnow, the top four women's finishers included (second from right) Sally Stanhope (9:30) of Atlanta, Ga. And (r) Lindley Swartz (9:41) from Boone, N.C. Both are members of the cross country team as well.
On the men's side, the cross country team was upset by William Haas of Asheville, N.C. Haas completed the campus loop in 7:34, and chose an Oreo cake from the plethora of pastries.
A cross country and track athlete in high school, Haas decided over the summer not to compete on the collegiate level. His reasons for racing this day, though, were simple. "I was out here for the cakes," he said. "It was about the easiest and most stress-free race I could run."
Three cross country team members finished closely behind Haas. Kevin Bell of Carrollton, Ga., covered the course in 7:44 and chose a brown sugar pound cake. Jason Blanford of Mundelein, Ill., was third, and simply stated, "I gave it my all," after finishing in 7:49 He narrowly beat out Nick Lehman of Durham, N.C.,
Lehman said, "I think the choice of nourishment was slightly sketchy, but it was a good run."
The top men's finishers were, l-r, Haas, Bell, Blanford, and Lehman.
Lehman's time of 7:50 earned him a two-foot tall wooden cat covered in frosting, which he and Bell held up for the crowd. Members of the women's soccer team later confessed to having stolen the eccentric heirloom from the men's soccer team and covered it in frosting as a practical joke.
The race was competitive throughout most of the field, with some exciting dashes to the finish line as students gave it their all for the tastiest possible pastry.
Over the years, cake-crafting by community members who contribute them has evolved as a competition of its own. Just as the freshmen compete for the "sweetness" of victory, many contributors compete to offer the cake that will be selected first.
This year it was a cake baked by Ellen Giduz, a 20-year member of the community and librarian in the career services office, whose cake was selected by Anna Brew. Modestly acknowledging her "victory," Giduz flattered fellow contributors Rob Whitton of the math department and Laura Grosch, wife of art professor Herb Jackson, for their creativity. Whitton contributed a large, sprinkle-covered cake in the shape of a hot-air balloon, which was selected by Jason Blanford of Mundelein, Ill. Grosch has practically patented a chocolate star-shaped cake covered in M&M's and boasting, "You Win" in frosting.
"It's a very friendly competition," Giduz said, "and over the years I've learned you don't have to work hard; you just need size and M&M's."
The time-honored tradition of the cake race has evolved and improved since that first race in 1930. The race is now optional for freshmen instead of "highly encouraged." It also now includes women running in a division of their own. Current Davidson President Robert "Bobby" Vagt '69 has added a new tradition during his tenure--running the race for the past four years along with the freshmen dressed in the Wildcat mascot head and gloves!
The race course has also changed over the years to dodge traffic and construction. Sterling Martin '63, director of the college lake campus, can remember when the course led runners in the exact opposite direction of the way they run now, which concludes with a tough pull up the hill from Patterson Court back to Richardson Field. In addition to his regular duties for the college, Martin has organized the cake race annually for more than 35 years. He, like many others, believe it's a special tradition worth the effort to maintain. So as long as August continues to deliver a new freshman class, the Davidson community will likely greet them with smiles, miles, and decorative cake styles.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.