As thousands of students count down — “Three! Two! One!” — the cheers turn into one big roar, and everyone rushes into the cool water of the Reflecting Pond all at once, trying to grab a coveted rubber duck without getting trampled by their peers. This is Spirit Splash, one of the nation’s best campus traditions.
Spirit Splash, awarded Best Campus Tradition in 2011 by the National Association for Campus Activities, is a staple of Homecoming Week each year. Students, and even members of the surrounding community, line up hours in advance of the stampede into the Pond to get their hands on a Spirit Splash T-shirt, dance to upbeat music and claim their spots for the rush up to the edge of the Pond.
UCF’s self-proclaimed “biggest campus tradition” hasn’t always been around, however. While UCF itself was established in 1963, and the Pond was constructed in 1967, Spirit Splash didn’t make its debut until 1995.
Since then, it has evolved over the years into a bigger and more sophisticated tradition. While there are no attendance numbers for the very first Splash, UCF Homecoming’s 2015 Executive Director Joey Wolf said there were a projected 15,000 to 17,000 students in attendance last year.
But as the tradition gets ready to celebrate its 20th anniversary Friday, pinpointing the reasoning behind its exact origin is no easy feat. There are two different stories floating around as to how Spirit Splash got its start, and not much documented history of either, making its origin unclear.
One story has it that Spirit Splash began in 1995 at a Homecoming pep rally in front of Millican Hall, when the student body president at the time, Miguel Torregrossa, was thrown into the Reflecting Pond, said Mary Rubin, senior archivist at the University Archives. Wolf echoed this story.
“In 1995, the student body president’s cabinet members threw him into the Reflecting Pond, and everyone jumped in after him, and on that day, the tradition started. In 1997 it was named Spirit Splash,” Wolf said.
Another story of how Spirit Splash got its start stems from a 2002 email found in the UCF Archives from then-Assistant Director of Student Activities Emily Kukulies, who made phone calls to local alumni and those who served on the Homecoming Committee and Student Government Association from 1994 to 1996.
“In 1994, students were very involved in a contest, which somehow involved collecting pennies in milk jugs. They were shaking their milk jugs trying to get attention. To get even more attention, they wandered into what was then the most open area of the Pep Rally — the Pond,” Kukulies’ email states. “Other students wanting to beat the heat wandered in, too. Event coordinators then spent a great deal of the time chasing folks out of the Pond.
“To appease the interest of students who wanted to get into the Pond and allow for better planning of the event, the Student Government & Homecoming Committee worked with various campus constituencies to get all the necessary approval to have the first Spirit Splash at Homecoming 1995.”
Even Knightro may have had his beginnings at Spirit Splash. According to a previous Central Florida Future article, information from the University Archives showed that Knightro did not officially appear until the 1994 Spirit Splash, although he was not named Knightro until 1995.
Another Spirit Splash mystery that remains is the reasoning behind the ducks. It is unclear as to when the ducks were introduced, or where the idea came from. The University Archives’ duck collection starts in 2002, and Rubin said she was unsure of whether this was the year the ducks were first introduced.
And while the actual story behind Spirit Splash’s beginnings and quirky traditions remains a mystery, there is no question that it is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year by students.
“It has gotten bigger and is always trying to introduce new elements in it, such as our live performance by That Drummer, That DJ this year,” Wolf said. “It is so full of school spirit and is a time where everyone from the school and community comes together with alumni and shows what UCF has to offer.”
Another new feature this year, a Spirit Splash live stream, was announced Oct. 15 by the Office of Student Involvement. For the first time ever, fans who are unable to make it to the event can visit the UCF Homecoming website Friday at 2 p.m. to watch the live stream.
Danielle Hendrix is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByDaniHendrix or email her at DanielleH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.