Touchdown Tree

A sycamore tree once shaded the end zone of Patterson Field. That tree and its progeny are no more, but the leafy legacy lives on.

Its roots date to the 1920s when former Dean of the College Dr. Wharten Kline refused to let the tree be removed during the clearing of the space for a football field. The field’s specifications were moved several yards west, leaving the tree 20 feet from the goalposts in the end zone.

An unsung hero of the sycamore saga, Professor of Biology Peter Small, current Interim Dean of the College, decided to study the tree in 1984 because it appeared to be too old to survive much longer. He estimated it to be 200-250 years old.

Fate was with the tree: just after Dr. Small rooted cuttings from the branches, the tree was felled by a wind storm. Small’s sapling was replanted in the same spot and grew to be known as Son of Sycamore.  A one-ton piece of the downed tree’s upper trunk was carved into a bear, which today perches on a pedestal in the Helfferich gymnasium lobby.

Ursinus became part of the trivia landscape when Parker Brothers included a question in its All American edition of Trivial Pursuit in 1993. At first players were reportedly stumped by the question: “What does Ursinus College have in its football end zone that no other college in the U.S. has?”

Budding news of the tree in the end zone earned Ursinus a mention in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  Lore holds that the secluded sycamore was a favorite trysting place, the backdrop for engagement photos, and a spot for impromptu football victory cheering.

In 2011, removal of the second generation tree was necessitated by the installation of a new artificial grass field, which allows fall and spring teams to compete year-round and offers more access for club sports and intramural sports.  To retain its living spirit, a Sycamore Grove of seven new trees was planted by the field, to remind us of the longevity of Ursinus traditions. It is immortalized in the Sycamore Giving Club recognizing five years of consecutive giving. 

Generations of students are connected to the sycamore tree, an Ursinus family tree, if you will. Now, it is celebrated as one of Ursinus College’s new crests.

This crest shows leaves from the sycamore tree.This crest shows leaves from the sycamore tree.

 

This 1993 story from the Times-Herald noted the Trivial Pursuit question about the Ursinus tree. This 1993 story from the Times-Herald noted the Trivial Pursuit question about the Ursinus tree.

The bear statue carved from the original sycamore tree.The bear statue carved from the original sycamore tree.