Flinging through the years
Annual Spring Fling tradition offers students a break from academic pressures
April 10, 2012, 12:22 am·
Deepa Lakshmin | DP
Tommy Leonardi | DP
For 39 years, Penn students have put down their books, set aside their homework and flocked to the Quad for the Quakers’ most holy weekend — Spring Fling.
Fling is a “chance to release all your frustrations for three days,” 1982 College graduate and Spring Fling Co-Chair David Weiss said in a press release in April 1982.
“The whole purpose of Spring Fling is to have a good time, get a little drunk, enjoy the celebration with friends on the Quad and have a blast,” 1983 College graduate Henry Ottinger said in an April 15, 1983 Daily Pennsylvanian article.
While the first Spring Fling was held in 1973, a springtime carnival has been held at Penn for over 60 years.
Starting in April 1949, Callow Day was established to celebrate Penn’s rowing team, and in 1951, the festival was renamed Skimmer Day.
During Skimmer weekend, the “campus had a carnival like atmosphere,” 1963 Wharton graduate Philip Carchman said. “It was the social event of the year.”
Carchman explained that, “everyone would congregate along the river north of the boat houses for the race with lots of alcohol and such stuff in abundance,” and added that “there may have been rules, but no one cared.”
However, in 1963, the University suspended Skimmer Day due to conduct and alcohol policy violations, but in 1973, the carnival tradition was revived with a new festival — Spring Fling.
“Almost no one did any work,” 1978 Wharton graduate Steven Sklar recalled of the earliest Flings. “Everyone was out doing something.”
In 2012, the food, games and concerts may look slightly different from the first Spring Fling in 1973, but the attitudes of Penn students remain remarkably similar.
In the past few decades, food vendors have been one of the biggest attractions of Fling.
In 1982, most Flingers said that the best part of Spring Fling that year was the food —“everything from cheesesteaks to cookies to egg rolls to falafel to eggplant parmesan pizza,” according to an April 15, 1982, DP article.
The following year there were over 20 vendors selling “delicacies” in the Lower Quad, according to an April 15, 1983, edition of the DP.
The food booths in 1983 — which included popcorn, candy, tuna and corned beef sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers, fruit bowls and a Mister Softee truck — were expected to bring in around $80,000 in revenue over the weekend.
In the ’90s, food still played a large role in the Fling experience, said 1995 Wharton graduate Jared Miller, who was a Fling co-chair his senior year.
For Miller, Fling was all about experiencing the “diversity and flavor of the University and city.”
Today, there is no longer “room to fit 20 vendors” in the Quad, said College sophomore Julie Palomba, a director of Social Planning and Events Committee, which coordinates Spring Fling. “We chose four quality vendors in the Quad who offer a wide variety of festival-type food choices — Lumpy’s BBQ, Liberty Concessions, Festival Food and J-Dogs Concessions,” she explained.
Food is still a “big part of the culture of Fling,” Palomba said, adding that there will “of course be the classic fried oreos, chicken fingers and cheesesteaks.”
She added that “in trying to incorporate our candy theme this year, we will play up sweets offerings with treats like fried candy bars, funnel cake, cotton candy, water ice and smoothies.”
The fact that Spring Fling coincides with Passover this year will prevent some students from enjoying Fling food, such as fried oreos.
“I was really disappointed when I heard about all the food there was going to be and I won’t be able to have any of it,” College freshman Shira Papir said.
“People love their Fling food,” Palomba said.
Since the first Spring Fling in 1973, the carnival games in the Quad have changed year to year.
In the early 1980s, games included water balloon fights, five-legged races, tug-of war, giant Twister games, human pyramids and egg tosses, according to a University press release from April 1982.
One of the greatest attractions in 1982 was a dunking booth, in which students had the opportunity to dunk then Penn President Sheldon Hackney and Bubba Smith, former Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders defensive lineman.
“Luckily for Amy Gutmann, Chi Omega will not be hosting their annual dunk tank attraction in the Quad this year,” Palomba said. “But I think we’d all hate to ruin that perfectly styled hair.”
“This year’s Fling games will include a moon bounce and an inflatable obstacle course, and student groups will be having games too,” College sophomore Casey Peeks, a co-director of Spring Fling, said.
“Because the weather is supposed to be really nice, I think a lot of people will come out and relive their childhoods with the games,” Peeks said.
One of the biggest attractions for students is Friday night’s concert, which this year will feature Tiësto and Passion Pit, since it is a “great way to blow off steam before finals,” Papir said.
The Fling concert tradition has evolved in the past 39 years, from featuring local and Penn bands to featuring internationally acclaimed artists.
By the early 1980s, Penn was recruiting bands “beyond the Penn community and brought in several bands of a higher musical caliber,” Ottinger said.
The 30 acts performed in 1983 featured “a variety of rock, punk, new wave and funk” and were located in the Quad.
Jack Frishberg, a 1982 Wharton graduate, recalls seeing Hall & Oates in the Palestra, as well as Muddy Waters performing in the field behind the ice skating rink one year.
In 2000 and 2001, “the process of planning and executing the Friday night Fling Concert was a similar process as it is today,” said 2001 College graduate Matthew Dicker, who was a SPEC concert director both years.
By this time, the Fling concert was featuring nationally known artists, rather than bands from Penn and Philadelphia.
In Dicker’s junior year, the concert featured The Roots and Ben Folds Five, and in his senior year, Ben Harper and the Black Eyed Peas performed.
“Penn has the ability to host concerts in venues akin to the large fields and arenas where these performers typically play,” Dicker said. In his time at Penn, concerts were hosted on Hill Field or at the Palestra.
Dicker added that Penn “can execute a world-class performance,” featuring entertainers that are treated as well here “as they would be anywhere else.”
“Smaller schools may not have the budget and student body of Penn,” he added.
He looks back now fondly on planning the concert with a “diverse group of kids who got together with the belief of how great music is, and wanted to bring that to the student body.”
Dicker added that personally, Fling and the concerts were some of the “highlights of my Penn experience” that “made a big impact” on others’ as well.
“To see 8,000 people show up to the concert — it was just an awesome experience,” he said.
Miller agreed that Fling was “one of the highlights of the academic year,” as it was a break from classes with lots of entertainment and food.
To him, having Penn provide an event that is run and managed by students is an opportunity to make great memories.
“Take it all in.”
MK Kleva contributed reporting to this article.