Flashback: Rivals challenge the faculty
by Richard Harms, College Archivist

Just over a century ago, as the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church was in the process of becoming John Calvin Junior College, the faculty appointed a committee to keep nonacademic activities from interfering with the education of students. Originally known as the committee on entertainments, it had several other names over the years, but generally was referred to as the committee on societies. As the college's curriculum was expanded to four years, and both "John" and "Junior" were dropped from the official name, the committee on societies was charged specifically to supervise groups and clubs to keep the students from "spending too much time in purely social or athletics activities" (Faculty Minutes, Sept. 17, 1920).

Each year at least a dozen such groups were organized with about half being new every year, so merely keeping track was difficult. A few groups successfully avoided committee review simply by not submitting the required copy of their constitution. One of these scofflaw groups was the Rivals, organized in 1920 by members of a student-run basketball team that was replaced when the college's official basketball program began. Membership in the Rivals was limited and exclusive, and close ties were maintained between the members and the group's alumni. The group's purpose seems to have been little more than an opportunity to form social interaction for limited membership and fostering personal friendships, which seemed neither Christian nor Reformed to the faculty. Repeatedly the faculty instructed its committee to review the constitution of the Rivals.

The 1923 Rivals: John Swets, John Vos, Franklin Top, Andrew Sall, Menzo Bolt, John Meeter, William Highstone and Henry Roelofs

The review conducted a year past due in 1921 found that the group seemed to have no legitimate purpose, had high fees and dues, and had a secret process for membership, and it recommended that the group be disbanded or asked to write a new constitution. The group did not comply in spite of repeated requests, so in 1923 found that it no longer had access to campus facilities and services. This prompted a revised constitution that was accepted by the committee in early 1925. But according to Henry Ryskamp, its members ". were frequently involved in affairs that caused pleasure to the students but irritation to the faculty," so the Rivals were instructed to revise their constitution a second time. When a year later, again after repeated requests, this still had not been done, the faculty barred students from joining the Rivals and the group's entry and photo were removed from the upcoming 1926 Prism.

The Rivals continued to meet following the faculty decision, inducting two new student members. Even though exams were under way, the faculty responded to this flouting of their decision by suspending the 10 Rivals until the next fall-which denied them the opportunity to take exams-and voiding those exams the 10 had already taken. The suspension had a particularly severe effect on the several Rivals who were completing their studies at Calvin and planning on further education elsewhere or beginning careers. On appeal, those who were completing their studies were allowed to take their exams and retake those exams that had been voided, but could not participate in Commencement. Several of the leaders of the Rivals received individual sanctions as well.

The faculty allowed the group one last meeting to wind up its financial affairs. A year later, 36 Rivals met in Grand Rapids and organized as an alumni group. Many became prominent in business, law and medicine, but there is no indication of the group meeting again.