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The traveling trophy
A walrus bone, the baculum, mounted on a plaque became a traveling trophy for the winner of the annual Illinois-Purdue softball game. When it was stolen, the effort to get it back led to a life-changing adventure.
Let me take you back a bit. The time is ripe (possibly overripe) to tell this story. It would seem that the statute of limitations has long expired, so I can sit back and freely spin this yarn without retribution.
Thirty-seven years have passed. It doesn't seem that long, but it never does to those of us who, like Rip Van Winkle, DVM, have awakened from a long parade of cat abscesses and knotted vicryl to find that the world is indeed a different place.
Let me take you back to my first year of veterinary school.
Besides the frequent all-night study sessions I also vividly remember softball. I'm talkin' 16-inch softball. It became apparent that 16-inch softball was, and probably still is, an obsession around Chicagoland. We played a lot of it during those first two years of veterinary school at the University of Illinois' Champaign-Urbana campus. As a small-town fella from southern Illinois, I was never exposed to 16-inch softball until I walked onto that campus. It was a lot of fun, and nearly everyone could play.
The ball is truly soft, so gloves are seldom worn. The ball must be lobbed to the batter. There are 10 players on a team.
The softball is the interesting part. After it is hit a number of times, it gets out of round and starts to look enormous as it leaves the pitcher's hand. Therefore this game is also called "mushball." The challenge is not so much hitting the ball as focusing on its likely center and trying to hit that spot. If you don't, you can easily look like a pre-schooler playing T-ball for the first time.
I wasn't very good at it, but some of my classmates could muscle it out of the park and play infield like Brooks Robinson.
Softball was just one of our diversions. We really needed relief from the sheer quantity of information we were expected to take in — so much that we felt like a mouse trying to swallow a 300-pound pig.
I am sure that pig today is well over 1,200 pounds.
So it was softball at noon, softball on the weekends and in the evenings if homework allowed. This form of softball is not inherently dangerous — or so I thought until one fall day. We were playing before class, and I was filling in at catcher. (I am sure whomever I was filling in for was a much better player, but I was pumped.)
Someone who hit a triple into right field was now standing on third base. This student was an enormous man: tall, heavily muscled and weighing at least 100 pounds more than I did. (Nobody really recruits 148-pound catchers.)
The next batter popped a small fly into short right field that dropped at the feet of my teammate, who picked it up and fired it like a rocket to (you guessed it) me. The big guy on third had long since left the bag, and that's when the lights went out. I woke up next to what would have been the dugout in a normal field.
That evening I started a lifelong friendship with aspirin. Thereafter, I tried to get picked to play on his team.
The border clash
One day in freshman anatomy class amid the warm bouquet of formalin and rotting animal carcasses, someone had a bright idea: Why don't we have a picnic and play the Purdue veterinary students in a cross-border rivalry game of softball?
Now, Purdue was not very far away, perhaps 100 miles. It seemed logical and a fun thing to do. Soon contact was made with the Purdue students, and so in the fall of 1971 we had our game at Turkey Run State Park, about equal distance for both teams.
All was well. The sun shone. The game was fun, and our IU team won handily. Many of us made new friends, or so it seemed.
We parted, and life went on.
On Monday morning we re-entered that dark path that every first-year vet student must follow: endless memorization of soon-forgotten facts and factoids to be vomited back onto paper during pressure-packed tests.
Still, in spite of the pressures, we played more softball and had some massive parties. Freshman survival tactics kicked in, and friendships were cemented.
The hub of our existence centered on Professor St. Claire's anatomy classes. He was a taskmaster but a real friend to the students. Dr. St. Claire apparently had a photographic memory. When lecturing, he seemed to be visualizing every minute detail of his presentations as he painted pictures for us with vast sweeps of his hands. Unfortunately, for the most part it didn't help. The details of horse and cow neuro-anatomy were still massive puzzles for the majority of us. However, if the reproductive system were involved, it seemed most of the male students had an enormous capacity for recall.
Which (as it turns out) is related to something that's key to this tale — our traveling trophy.
It happened this way:
A group of my classmates decided that a softball rematch was in order. From now on there would be a traveling trophy that would be kept by the freshman class of Purdue or Illinois forevermore — something like the Stanley Cup without the broken bones. The idea was that the winning trophy would be displayed by the winning freshman anatomy class. There also would be a second-place trophy for the also-ran losers. We were sure it would be great fun.
Another classmate conspired with Dr. St. Claire to produce a most appropriate traveling trophy — a mounted bone. In our case the mounted bone would be none other than the "os penis" or baculum of a walrus. (Note: Non-veterinary readers, please understand that Viagra is a total non-necessity for many mammals). The second-place trophy was impressive but less exotic — a mounted metatarsal of an ox.
And so again the teams were assembled. And on a beautiful spring Saturday in 1972 the game was played.
Illinois won again. For Purdue there was no joy in "Mudville," and we parted ways.
The next year's veterinary first-year classes were left to defend or aspire to the hallowed "os penis" trophy which now was hanging on the wall behind the ever-animated Professor St. Claire's desk.
Little did we know that the Purdue students were plotting a friendly revenge.
On a Monday morning a few weeks later, there came a clamor from the anatomy room. Stenches were common but clamors rare. The buzz in the basic-science building was that the trophy was missing.
Word spread fast, and our students were instantly drawn to the scene of the crime.
Sure enough, right over St. Claire's lecture area between two windows on the third floor, was a noticeably naked section of wall where a gently spiraling penile bone (our precious trophy) had been prominently displayed.
Speculation was rampant. Many students spit out their opinions as if words were made of bitter orange. Desperation set in at the realization that the culprits likely would never be found.
But then word came that two female Purdue veterinary students were seen exiting our building over the weekend with the booty in hand. A cry of vengeance pervaded the ancient building. Justice must be meted out, and soon.
A few of us came up with a plan: Two carloads of us would invade the neighboring state of Indiana and infiltrate the Purdue campus seeking the lost treasure.
It was, of course, a ridiculous plan, but common sense was in short supply. Revenge was the order of the day.
I volunteered my car because it could hold a lot of people. The 1968 Plymouth Fury with bald tires and an AM radio looked more like an ugly parade float than a car.
Our two-car reconnaissance mission quietly entered West Lafayette, Ind., on a sunny spring morning after a two-hour planning session.
Purdue was (and still is) a lovely campus, and we commented on that as we sought our objective. We drove slowly onto the veterinary-school grounds like private detectives from a B movie.
Finally there it was: the administration building, the pulsing center of enemy territory. We parked a few blocks away, exited like G-men and spread out to visit several buildings. We agreed to meet somewhere near the administration building at 11 a.m. and regroup. (Remember, there were no cell phones.)
We finally entered the administration building together, and it was apparent that we were taking no one by surprise.
Students started crowding around the alien creatures from Illinois and demanding answers. We blathered along until someone in our group finally took a stand.
He summoned the courage to throw down the gauntlet.
We cheered as he voiced our collective displeasure concerning the burglary that he explained had been contrived by a few shortsighted Boilermakers in the first-year veterinary class.
The diatribe baffled some of the Purdue upper-classmen, but it soon was clear that a handful of students were indeed aware of the treachery and had been enjoying the moment.
Finally the Purdue students dispersed and, unknown to us, a cat-and-mouse game ensued, initiated by the perpetrators.
Two women appeared at a doorway, making themselves quite visible, and then disappeared. They re-appeared at another doorway.
The bait was taken. We rushed to find the women, finally catching one exiting via the stairway at the front of the building. She seemed smug and haughty — tantamount to a confession.
We were thrilled. Finally someone would be held accountable for the crime, and we would recover the prize. She willingly walked to our cars as we drove around campus grilling her on the whereabouts of "da bone." But she was not forthcoming. She folded her arms and pursed her lips in defiance.
When our backup car pulled alongside, it was decided to take her to Champaign and hold her for ransom.
That, of course, was one of the worst decisions ever made by veterinary students since the evolution of the horse some 50 million years prior.
Our captive just grinned. We knew she was one of the two burglars, yet I was hesitant to start the journey home. Something is wrong, a voice in my head told me. But the voice faded and I stepped on the gas.
After several minutes of silence, it dawned on us that we had some serious issues to resolve. Where would she stay? How would we find the other culprit?
Then came a voice over the AM radio. The announcer was broadcasting an APB for west-central Indiana and points beyond. All law-enforcement agencies were to be on the lookout for, well, my car.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and the humidity on the near side of my underwear rose.
The announcer warned that unknown students from Illinois had taken a Purdue student captive and were thought to be heading back to the University of Illinois.
I quickly came to my senses for the first time in about 72 hours. I finally realized that moving someone across state lines without their consent was a federal crime, better known as kidnapping. This was no longer a playful romp among the Hoosiers. Our jig was up. We were facing a disaster of our own making.
Our captive? She had turned ashen. She, too, had considered it all a game and now probably wished she were taking a final exam somewhere in Nova Scotia.
Our two cars immediately turned around and headed back east. Now the Purdue campus was eerily quiet. As we approached the veterinary school, a line of state police cars awaited in front of the halls of animal science.
We gently parked behind the police and slowly emerged from our cars with "Student X." (We never learned her real name.)
Several troopers approached, but a young man ran in front of them — clearly our captive's boyfriend, more upset than anyone else.
The next thing I remember was someone saying, " You boys come along with us."
We marched up the same steps we had traveled in our earlier foray — this time with heads held low in the company of Indiana's finest, the boyfriend spewing invective as we walked.
We stopped a few feet short of the dean's office.
The state police informed us that the dean would like to handle this matter himself.
That was good news to me. I didn't have a penny of bail money, so facing the dean was like a ray of sunshine.
About seven us filed in along with our "captive" and stood before a large desk. Sitting behind it was a fair-haired man with a stern look on his face — Dr. Jack Stockton, who had held the office of dean for only a few months.
We learned from him that the veterinary campus was shut down because of our antics.
He was not amused.
We stood in silence as he lectured us on a variety of points, labeling our actions as quite immature. Then he turned his attention to the young lady, telling her a thing or two as well. It became clear that the antics of these two young women had blistered the grapevine and that to some they had become instant folk heroes.
After a few more choice comments, the dean reached under his desk and lifted up something that shocked us to our socks:
The traveling trophy.
How it came to him I'll never know. He said nothing about that, but simply concluded by telling us, "Take the blasted thing home and never bring it back."
A twinkle in his eye, he indicated that we were miscreants of a rather high degree and that it would be best if we did not return to his campus anytime soon.
Then he smiled.
I liked this man. He seemed a bit like Solomon.
When we got to our cars the police had gone.
We took the bone home, but it wasn't the same again. The traveling trophy was retired after only one year.
The old 'os penis' probably remains in a box somewhere in the depths of a storage room on some unfinished floor on the Urbana campus waiting for someone to look in someday and exclaim:
"Who on Earth ... and for what possible reason would anyone mount this funny little bone on a plaque? Hmmmm ... It just says at the bottom: 'Class of 1975.' No one has ever claimed it. This needs to be thrown away."
If that moment ever occurs, the Earth will stir beneath Professor St. Claire's gravestone.
As for me, I think back at that AM radio broadcast that saved me.
Yes, I might have spent some time in the federal slammer at Terra Haute, Ind., were it not for that scratchy old AM radio.
Dr. Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He also offers a broad range of consulting services. Dr. Lane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For a complete list of articles by Dr. Lane, visit dvm360.com/lane