One of the rituals of Ohio State University home football games is the Skull Session of the Ohio State University Marching Band, held in St. John Arena before the game starts.
We answer some of the biggest questions about the now famous event.
1) Why is it called a ‘Skull Session’?
The name “Skull Session” is taken from a slang phrase developed in the early 20th century to describe an athletic team practice. In a 2004 Columbus Dispatch interview, then Band Director Jon Woods said the phrase’s origin is from the metonymy of the word “skull” with the meaning “head, brain or sense.” A skull session is where team members have to work through figuring out plays, or “use their heads,” as Woods said. The earliest use of the phrase in The Columbus Dispatch – based on a text search of the archive – was in 1919 to describe an Ohio Wesleyan baseball team practice.
2) Why doesn’t the Skull Session start at the same time on every Saturday when Ohio State has a home game?
Well, actually it does, in a way. The Skull Session begins 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff. With television networks often determining the start of the game to fit the network’s schedule, that start time then affects when Skull Session begins.
3) Has the Skull Session always been held in St. John Arena?
No. Before 1957, the Skull Session took place in the School of Music’s practice facility, known as Rehearsal Hall. The Skull Session was open to the public, and its increasing popularity by the early 1950s led to the marching band issuing tickets for admission so that parents of band members would be assured to have a seat in the smaller building, which was originally built to judge poultry and other livestock. After St. John Arena opened in 1956, then Band Director Jack Evans asked permission from the Athletic Department to move the Skull Session to St. John to allow for larger crowds. And the rest, as they say, is history.
4) When did the Skull Session start?
The first Skull Session was held in 1932. Then Band Director Eugene Weigel wanted the band to improve its on-field marching formations, and he thought that having a same-day run-through of the halftime show music would give band members more confidence with the music performance and free their minds during halftime to concentrate on the marching.
5) What’s the reason for having the football team attend the Skull Session?
When Jim Tressel became Ohio State’s football coach in 2001, he met with then Band Director Jon Woods and proposed having the team show up at the Skull Session. Tressel believed that the football players would benefit from greater interaction with the band and would gain greater appreciation for the support from the band. “The band is part of us, and we are part of them,” Tressel told The Columbus Dispatch in 2004.
6) What’s the solemn-sounding song the band always plays at Skull Session in which band members sing in the middle?
The hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” is one of the highlights of Skull Session. The hymn was written in 1860 by English churchman William Whiting, and its call for protection on sea voyages led to its being adopted by both the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy. For this reason, the song is perhaps better known as “The Navy Hymn.” The performance of “The Navy Hymn” hearkens back to the marching band’s origin as part of Ohio State’s ROTC program. The link to ROTC ended in 1952. Before that time, all members of Ohio State’s marching band were in ROTC.