St. John's opens 30th croquet meet with new fight song

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If Notre Dame or Michigan decided to change their school fight songs, the moves would likely spark objections from students, alumni and faculty.

At St. John's College, however, it's a bit different. On April 28, at its 30th annual croquet match against the U.S. Naval Academy, the school planned to introduce a new fight song. And it appears people on the college's Annapolis campus don't seem to mind.

That's partly because few can recall the current fight song.

"I don't know if any students at the school know what our current official song is," said student John Fleming of Gaithersburg, an imperial wicket (or a captain) on the croquet team. He added, "We just have a general repertoire from the freshman chorus that we have to do, so there are random ones that catch on from their particular year that everyone remembers."

At St. John's, students say, there are few opportunities to hear the school song. That wasn't always the case; St. John's officials said that during the decades before the Depression, the college had competitive varsity programs in sports including football and lacrosse.

The fight song, "St. John's College March," was written in 1911 by student Robert Graham Moss and was later referred to as "St. John's Forever." Back then, officials said, the song was played by the school's band.

But today, St. John's varsity teams are in crew, croquet, sailing and fencing — sports that don't really lend themselves to fight songs. And though the school has a tradition steeped in music, it no longer has a student band. In fact, during recent croquet events, the St. John's faithful have performed satirical versions of the Navy song.

But the college hopes that the tradition will change. St. John's alumni Adrian Trevisan and Claiborne Booker decided to give the official version an upgrade last year, during the 100th anniversary of the song. The 1984 graduates established a contest for the new song with cash prizes.

Trevisan, who lives in Princeton, N.J., said he knew the original song while at St. John's because he and Booker put together a barbershop group that performed it.

When the original lyrics were written, "the school was a quasi-military academy," said Trevisan. "One of the goals of having this concept was having lyrics that are relevant to the new [academic] program. We had a lot of good entries, and we chose one that embodies the good things about the program.

"My hope is that people will feel that way and want to sing the song."

"St. John's Forever" includes the lyrics:

"St. John's forever, her fame shall never die.

Fight for her colors. We¹ll raise them to the sky.

Each loyal son pledges you his heart and hand;

for he united we as brothers stand."

The new song is also titled, "St. John's Forever," and was written by student Charles Branan of Sandersville, Ga. Its lyrics include:

"True love of wisdom is sheltered in her halls.

Seekers of virtue will answer to her call.

Books and a balance are all the tools we need.

St. John's forever. She will make us free."

School officials said that the winning arrangement for the song was done by John Bonn of Baltimore, a teacher at Friends School and father of St. John's student Tommy Bonn. The anthem will be sung before this weekend's croquet match by the St. John's Chorus.

The annual match has become one of the more popular events in the Annapolis area. St. John's has won 24 of the previous 29 meetings. In preparation for the event, both St. John's and Navy croquet teams play a team from the Ginger Cove retirement community, a tradition that began in 1992.

The St. John's croquet team will continue its tradition of unveiling new team uniforms before the match, which is always held on the college's campus. The school hopes that the fight song will became part of the tradition as well.

"It would be nice," Fleming said, "to have that official school song that people would learn and identify with the college."

St. John's officials said that they have also instituted new rules on alcohol and tents for this year's match. No alcohol will be allowed to be brought onto the campus; beer and wine, however, will be among the refreshments available at the match. Tent spaces, school officials said, will be by reservation only.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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