Lost traditions from a pandemic year

COVID-19 Halts Clubs & Team Traditions

Hanna Hornfeld, Staff Writer

“If I were to be a senior next year, I would have no clue what was going on,” Swim team member Jojo Mignone (9) said. “I’d just get in the pool and swim, and other than that I wouldn’t know how the team worked.” Because Mignone has not had the opportunity to interact with many upperclassmen on the Swim team, she has not experienced most in-person traditions team members normally participate in for fun, she said. 

For example, swimmers missed out on John Mauro’s (12) favorite team tradition because of the rule prohibiting outside food on campus. At every swim meet, a member of the Swim team used to bring “Bliss Brownies” — baked according to a secret recipe that graduating seniors have passed down over the years — for the team to eat, Mauro said. 

COVID-19 restrictions prevented many clubs and teams from engaging in popular traditions. Seniors have worked to replicate normal club dynamics, but it was often challenging to bring together students across grade levels without in-person activities, Nina Gaither (12) said. 

For members of Model UN (MUN), bus rides to and from conferences served as crucial bonding experiences, MUN Secretary General (SG) Becca Rosenzweig (12) said.  “On the bus ride back, if we win, the SGs pour Lucky Charms into everyone’s mouths, we have lots of snacks, play music, and talk.” Each bus ride, team members have to share their favorite “MUN Moment” — a funny or sentimental memory from their time on the team. 

MUN Director-General and Head General Assembly Delegate Charlie Shapiro (12) worries that current sophomores and juniors will struggle to maintain traditions because they missed a year and a half of the normal MUN experience. “It’ll be very hard for freshmen to understand and really get into a lot of these clubs,” Shapiro said. “What made it so great is the upperclassmen are normally so passionate about it that it really rubs off on the underclassmen. With a lot of clubs now, there isn’t that passion.”

Next year’s sophomores and juniors in the Middle Division Mentoring (MDM) program, for example, will not have experienced the traditions that take place during their annual Dorr training, MDM leader Michael Shaari (11) said. The training usually takes place over the course of three days in August, during which many of these traditions occur. Last year, it was held over Zoom, and this year, the program held a one-day training in early June on the school’s main campus.

One of the main traditions involves mentors being split into groups and tasked with building a raft on which to race around the lake. “The energy is usually high,” Shaari said. “Usually everybody ends up falling in, having a lot of fun, having to basically swim the entire way.”

Because the Dorr staff runs the raft-building activity, Shaari is confident that this tradition will continue in future years, he said. However, he is not certain that students will carry on other traditions they would normally have learned from upperclassmen. For example, during their free time at Dorr, older students usually teach younger students to play Signs, a game special to MDM training and Upper Division Orientation. “There’s no explicit handbook of things to do during break or lunch,” Shaari said. 


Although Giselle Paulson (10), who will be an MDM leader next year, has never gone to Dorr for MDM training, she has experience with MDM traditions in other contexts, she said. Because of these experiences, she understands and hopes to preserve MDM training traditions. Paulson also plans to work with old leadership and with the Dorr staff to ensure that future training sessions look similar to past ones.

Divya Ponda (10) joined the Saturday Morning Tutoring Program (SMTP) this year and has only experienced the program online, so she has not heard about the club’s old in-person traditions, she said. In future years, she hopes to speak with the program’s former leaders to learn about and carry on those traditions with her peers.

Members of SMTP used to make buildings out of marshmallows, tape, and pasta, and ate waffles for breakfast before the last day of the program. “The little things we did foster a sense of community,” Gaither said. 

Zahra Motwani (10) hopes to preserve SMTP traditions if in-person tutoring is possible next year, she said. “As years go on, more traditions will be made, but the old ones will be kept intact too to keep the club bonded over those shared experiences.”

Rosenzweig is generally optimistic about MUN’s future because the team and its traditions always change over time, she said. “This is a team that’s been around for 60 years at the school, so I have no doubt that we’re still going to be going to as many away conferences as possible, that people will still be passionate about it, and that the MUN family will still exist,” she said. 

Jordan Wasserberger (11), who will be the Debate team’s Middle Division Head next year, is confident that Debate traditions will continue in the future because next year’s leaders have been heavily involved in the club since their freshman year. “If circumstances allow it, we’ll be able to replicate the usual feel,” he said. “If external circumstances change, we’ll do our best to have the new kids experience a large part of what we all love about debate.”

Although the Debate Team could not attend in-person tournaments, debaters still took part in traditions like Confidential Chanukah Fairy (CCF), a twist on Secret Santa in which 11th and 12th grade members of the team give each other both gag and genuine gifts, Wasserberger said. 

The Cancer Awareness Club held its two biggest yearly events — Cycle for Survival and Relay for Life — online this year. Beyond affecting their fundraising efforts, the events’ overall energy was weaker, said Rosenzweig, who is co-President of the club. “You have to walk into that event with so much positivity and so much energy and determination, and to really be there to celebrate life,” she said. 

In past years, every week before their games, the Varsity Football Team used to eat bagels together in the locker room, team member David Puckowitz (12) said. Puckowitz worries that the bagel tradition may die out because ninth and 10th graders have never experienced it. He hopes that if the tradition ends, future grades will come up with new ones. “It’s extremely important to have something to bond with each other over,” he said. “It’s not just a game that you play together and practices that you have together, but the overall camaraderie that [traditions] generate.”

Once a year, the Girls Varsity Basketball team comes together outside of school for a bonding activity, team member Sareena Parikh (11) said. Two years ago they had a sleepover, last year they went out for a team dinner, and this year they had a picnic. Because the activity is different every year, Parikh did not feel as though the pandemic changed this tradition significantly, she said.

Although members of the Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) were not able to do most of their usual traditions this year, HMTC co-President Sarah Taub (11) does not believe this change will negatively influence the group’s future. “If anything, this will just make these traditions even more special and meaningful,” she said. 


Members of HMTC have a tradition of giving roses to seniors to wish them luck for the journey ahead, Taub said. “It’s always a really emotional and special event,” she said. In addition, actors usually go to the Riverdale Diner before performances to spend time together and celebrate. “I remember being a freshman and feeling so much better about going out and doing the performance after having that moment with the cast.” 

This year, the bond between members of the Swim team seemed weaker to Mauro, but swimmers made an effort to increase team spirit in spite of this change, he said. Gaither organized a week of swim team spirit in the team’s Facebook group, Mauro said. 

On the second day of Ivy championships, members of the swim team would wear togas to school, and Gaither wanted to carry the tradition on in spite of the championships’ cancellation.

“When I was a freshman, everyone always said, ‘The swim team is the closest family,’” she said. “Putting on something funky is a really easy way of saying, ‘You are my team member, and we are going to somehow distinguish ourselves from the rest of the community,’” she said. 

Despite the team’s efforts to connect this year, Gaither predicts the energy will be very different next year. “I’m a little afraid that some of our traditions will fall out of use, but of course it’s still the Swim team and I’m sure that the brilliant sophomores and freshmen will be able to come up with their own,” she said.

Although ninth graders have not experienced many traditions this year, Mignone said she and her peers are looking forward to learning about them and carrying them on in the future. “You don’t want to be the grade that gives up on a tradition just because you didn’t experience it freshman year,” she said. “If there’s something that I learn about next year, I’ll be just as invested in it as I would have been this year.”