Oct. 23, 2009
"Fire in the Hole!"
By Maggie Corwin '12
Saturdays at Bearcat Stadium usually have a loud and excited atmosphere during football season. The band plays, the cheerleaders chant and the Bearcat fans cheer. But one noise stands out above the rest and it's usually preceded by a warning call, "Fire in the hole!"
If one is lucky to hear this advice, they have only a few seconds to cover their ears before a loud bang erupts and echoes through the stadium. To find the source of this noise, one simply has to look across Fourth Street to the Phi Sigma Kappa house. Smoking slightly and standing proudly is the Phi Sig cannon.
Originally, this cannon was fired from the corner of the field along with its twin. These cannons were built in1979 by a member with the initials E.F.K. and before the merging of Phi Sigma Epsilon and Phi Sigma Kappa chapters. The fraternity was already known for its location across from Bearcat Stadium, but E.F.K apparently wanted to be known for more. Thus the fraternity gained the tradition of the cannon. The two were fired to signal Northwest entering the field, kickoff, halftime, end of the game and Bearcat points. Unfortunately, around 1980 one of the two cannons was stolen.
The missing cannon has become a local myth. It has been rumored to be at the bottom of Colden Pond, outside of town in the 102 River, and some say it has simply vanished with time.
After the theft, the remaining cannon was officially secured. However, it was still wheeled across Fourth Street and to the stadium for games until the 90s when Northwest put a gun ban into effect. Before this guns were allowed on campus mostly so students could store hunting rifles and other arms in their dorms. This ban brought an official end to the cannon's placement on the sidelines.
The men of Phi Sigma Kappa continue to fire the cannon from its place alongside the house which overlooks Bearcat Stadium. This year it proudly displays a fresh coat of paint and has already signaled 159 Bearcat points this season.
"The cannon is a big symbol for our fraternity," said Casey Dupree, a Phi Sig cannoneer. "During rush, we are known as 'the guys with the cannon.'"
"The cannon is more than just a symbol for our fraternity, it's a symbol for the school, team and our fans," added Doug Porter, secretary of Phi Sigma Kappa.
The men of the fraternity are not the only ones who enjoy the loud tradition.
"It's a neat tradition," said former Bearcat football player and current Northwest Director of Marketing, Morris White. "As a football player we want to hear it often because it signifies a Bearcat touchdown."
Though the cannon is enjoyed, if not within earshot of the warning call, it can bring quite a shock.
"If you are unaware of it, it may take you by surprise," said White, "but you get used to it."
Warning calls and simply becoming accustomed to the cannon are not always enough.
"People know its coming, but some still say it scares them every time," said Dupree.
Occasionally, the warning call comes without a blast. There are many reasons for the delay. Each round takes about two minutes to load and takes a new wick, powder and wadding every time. A wet wick or the wrong amount of wadding can mess up the round. There is no perfect formula for producing a blast, but experience usually helps. Many of the men could fire the cannon if necessary, but mostly only a few, like Dupree, make it their job.
"There can be pressure from the other guys," said Dupree. "They can give you a hard time when the cannon isn't fired right away or a wick is messed up. Sometimes when the wick is lit the cannon still doesn't fire."
The cannon doesn't have enough power to do more than singe or create minor burns. For added safety, the cannon has the ability to tilt forward so it can dump out the wadding when it does not shoot off.
The cannon helps to make the atmosphere of the stadium and boosts enthusiasm. Besides adding to the crowds' spirit, it can greatly boost the players'.
"The cannon makes the home games that much better," said Northwest wide receiver Abe Qaoud. "When it goes off at the beginning of a game, it means it's time to start ballin'."
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