The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

The toga run: Night of 100 bed sheets

By in Culture
A toga runner poses for photo while running during the halftime of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Homecoming game against the UBC Thunderbirds at Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon, SK on Sept. 6, 2019.

Before running across a football stadium clad only in a flimsy bed sheet, there are many thoughts that might go through a freshman’s mind.

Each freshman might have varying reasons why they chose to participate in the toga run. Maybe it’s peer pressure or because they received an invitation from a cute girl. Curiosity could also be a factor — the temptation to try something new. Or perhaps one might just enjoy being part of traditions.

Regardless of the reason, a community is created while the runners watch and support their varsity football team is undeniable. 

The stage for halftime festivities is set by the football players. When the halftime finally arrives, runners realize it’s their time to shine.

They gather underneath the giant inflatable dog, the sacred tunnel where the Huskies football players make their entrance. Anticipation and excitement build. 

As the first person bolts out, every runner realizes it’s now or never. 

The huskie pups are unleashed and start dashing like their lives depend on it. There are three thoughts likely racing through their minds as they chase after each other: run, don’t fall and — most importantly — don’t make a fool of yourself.

By the time their thoughts catch up with them, it’s over.

“I think everybody set their personal best for 400 meter,” said Jenna Patrician, a toga runner.

Although breathless and sore, they are satisfied knowing they have become part of something bigger. That’s right, it’s official: welcome to the pack. 

Though calling it a celebration would not be the most accurate, the toga run is a rite of passage that commemorates the newfound freedom and independence of University of Saskatchewan freshmen.

Witnessed by many on the stands, it is a baptism where children become adults, first years become part of the close-knit neighbourhood of residence and the metaphorical pups are welcomed to the pack of Huskies. 

Runners help each other dress up in togas made out of torn bed sheets before the homecoming game. Laurel wreaths and tie-dyed garments complement the theme while facepaint is added to show school spirit. Runners are strongly advised to wear something underneath — for obvious reasons.

The U of S tradition began in 1960 when a Roman-themed Welcome Week started the school year. For the entire week, approximately 1,400 freshmen observed Roman ideals of etiquette while dressed in togas. This all got abbreviated to toga run, the tradition that we are familiar with today. 

With the strong alumni presence at the homecoming game, it’s not a stretch to say that seeing the freshmen tear across the field in their togas would incite some nostalgia in the past U of S students.

Second-year students Emma Fedusiak, Brandon Wiebe and Aleksander Aguirre are resident assistants at Voyageur Place. Like the rest of the student life team in student residence, these three are responsible for organizing the Welcome Week events including the toga run.

According to Wiebe, lots of discussions and efforts were put in this year to make the toga run more entertaining and memorable for the first-year residents. 

“I know a couple people didn’t know about it until like the actual [football] game [when] they went to the game and then saw the people running,” said Wiebe. “We kind of wanted to make it more advertised, make it a little bit more hyped, so that maybe we can get some bigger numbers.”

One of these efforts was the freedom to customize the togas. Residents of Voyageur Place were allowed to decorate their togas with tie-dye this year.

“So the thought behind the tie-dye was that they’d have an object that kind of unifies Voyageur Place at the Toga Run,” said Fedusiak. “They can put their own spin on, choose their own colours, but still be a symbol of VP. That’s our goal.”

Participating in the toga run in front of thousands can be daunting, especially for freshmen who are unfamiliar with the environment. However, the RAs encouraged them to take part.

“I don’t want to push them out of their comfort zone to do something that’ll make them unhappy,” said Aguirre. “I just want to make sure people are happy in their environment but also willing to step out and try new things.“

Despite the labour they all seemed very passionate when coordinating the Welcome Week events this year, especially for the toga run which serves as the grand finale.

What a difference one year can make. Last year, these green vest wearing RAs were in the same place as these freshmen. Now, they are the leaders of the pack who are organizing the events for the freshman.

“Looking back now, seeing all the events we’ve put on and all the stuff we’ve done — like door tags, everything — and seeing residents like them is super rewarding and it makes those five a.m. nights way easier,” said Wiebe.

Every year, someone yarfs at the track —  it’s part of the tradition at this point. Though the yarfers might go on to be the biggest and brightest thinkers of our generation, nothing is going to change the events of that night. 

“Everybody does silly things when you’re young,” said Patrician. “If you had all your wisdom now, it wouldn’t be very fun.” 

Heywood Yu

Photo: Heywood Yu

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