Puddle Jump

March 1975: The first St. Patrick’s Day Puddle Jump

‘Exuberance at the end of a hard winter’

You know a humble student tradition has gone legitimate when it gets mentioned in an inauguration speech. That’s the case with the bone-chilling St. Patrick’s Day Puddle Jump, warmly invoked at the October 2002 inauguration of President Hansen.

Hansen’s longtime colleague and friend, Mary Patterson McPherson, introduced the new president and mused about the Hansen’s readiness for the Maine climate: “Had life in the balmy mid-Atlantic states so thinned her blood that she would fail, first time out, at participating in your bone-chilling tradition, the Puddle Jump?”

Puddle Jump 1998, photo by Erin Mullin ’01.

Unlike most student traditions, the Puddle Jump has a clear provenance, thanks to its attentive founders, Christopher Callahan ’78, Scott Copeland ’78 and Lars Llorente ’78.

It began in 1975, when several Batesies cut a hole in the ice on Lake Andrews, donned bathing suits (a few,at least), and took a bracing St. Patrick’s Day dip.

What began as “exuberance at the end of a hard winter,” according to Callahan, now has the trappings of legend. A “Dip Master,” the annually appointed grand-poobah of the polar plunge, and others cut the hole in the ice with the same ax used for the original puddle jump.

By mid-evening, participants gather in the basement of Smith South to hear the Dip Master read from the Dip Book, which contains a letter from Copeland as well as the names of Dip Masters past. A pair of Dippers — brawny members of the men’s rugby team in recent years, football players in the originators’ era — stand on either side of the hole, lowering puddle jumpers into what used to be a worrisome netherworld of broken bottles, discarded textbooks, and duck droppings. With the Puddle’s 1998 restoration, however, jumpers only have to worry about the cold (shrinkage, anyone?).

Callahan, Copeland and Llorente return to Lake Andrews on St. Patrick’s Day every few years to brave the murky depths and admire the fruit of their ritual-making labor. While the teeth-chattering plunge can cause headaches, Llorente said their appearance at the 10th-anniversary dip in 1985 was a “head-sweller.” When the crowd found out the founders were there, “they all went down on one knee like we were saviors,” he said.

The trio promises to return for the 2005 edition. “Every five years,” Callahan says.

Material from Bates Magazine, spring 1998, was used in this article.