Homecoming week kicks off with Dead River Games


SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM — Becca Fitch drops ice cream into Noah Swart’s mouth during the ice cream scoop challenge at Dead River Games. Their team, the Autobots, took first place in the challenge, completing it in 19 seconds.

Katarina Rothhorn, Features Editor

Nineteen seconds after senior biology major Becca Fitch first dug her ice cream scoop into the gallon tub of vanilla ice cream, she and her team cheered and lifted her off the ground in celebration of their nearly perfect time in the ice cream scoop competition. 

“We were pretty psyched when it happened,” Fitch said. “We were screaming.”

The competition was a part of Dead River Games, one of NMU’s homecoming traditions that pit teams of students against each other in an obstacle course and ice cream scoop challenge at Clark Lambrose Park. The theme for this year’s homecoming is The Northern Games in tribute to the summer Olympics.

Fitch’s team, the Autobots, had completed the challenge of dropping scoops of ice cream off of a ladder into five participants’ mouths in only 19 seconds and took first place in the event at the 2021 Dead River Games. The other members of the Autobots included senior Noah Swart, senior Nolan Tatomir and junior Ben Flaminio. 

“It was the most exhilarating 19 seconds of my life,” Swart said. “Nolan was first, and it went in and I was like ‘all right, that’s beginner’s luck’ and then like I lay down and it went in my mouth and then we were three for three and I was like ‘no way.’”

The Autobots only had four people on their team which meant they often had to double up for events, but the 40 teams that participated in the 2021 Dead River Games ranged in size from four to over 15 people. Roughly 300 people participated in the games this year. 

The great turnout is likely due to the cancellation of the Dead River Games last year as a result of stricter COVID-19 policies. 

“It was really exciting to have everyone back in person and the atmosphere was super lively,” Nicole Sandoval, coordinator for the Center for Student Enrichment and advisor for the Special Events Committee, said. “Everyone was super excited and jumping in the lake.”

Part of the appeal of jumping in the lake on such a cloudy day was aided by the relay obstacle course which included a slip-and-slide made with biodegradable soap and a kiddie pool filled with chocolate pudding. The final challenge in the obstacle course was finding one of the two golden poker chips hidden in the chocolate pudding. 

For junior Holly Dybas, one of the Special Events Committee volunteers helping with the games, the pudding was an exciting part to watch.

“This pudding has been very interesting,” Dybas said. “Everyone goes crazy trying to find the little chips in it and everyone is covered in pudding.”

The obstacle course also had players spin around a bat, crawl through hula hoops stuck in the sand and human wheelbarrow across the beach. 

Junior Abigail Stelter, president of the Special Events Committee that organized Dead River Games, said that most of the events in the relay favored people with physical skill so the inclusion of the luck-based pudding hunt was intended to even out the playing field for all teams. 

After the relay and ice cream drop, most teams, regardless of skill, were covered in soap, chocolate pudding and ice cream so a dip in the lake was the popular solution to cleaning up.

The ice cream for the event was donated by Jilbert’s Dairy and many gallons of ice cream were left untouched. After the winners of the games were announced, students were encouraged to take the extra ice cream home.

The Arctic Wolves team were the first place winners of the obstacle course, completing it in under 45 seconds. The team was composed of many freshmen students who had never participated in the games before including Jordan Rogers, Vadawn Wagnitz, Eric Elliot and Adam Hornkohl. However, they contributed much of their success to sophomore Joe Tennant.

“Joe killed it,” Elliot said. “He came through and he dove at the end.” 

The top three times for the ice cream scoop challenge and obstacle course won prizes including homecoming T-shirts, cups, fanny packs and frisbees. Teams also received prizes for showing pride such as competing with matching shirts. 

Teams marched onto Clark Lambrose Park with painted flags, creative team names and colorful matching outfits. While many had the goal of winning, the experience and chance to connect with other team members was what made the Dead River Games so memorable for everyone involved.

“I’m definitely just trying to take advantage of it. We missed out on quite a bit of our college experience due to COVID and a lot of those restrictions,” Fitch said. “I’m just really grateful that for my senior year, I’m able to actually attend stuff for homecoming.”