Students walking past the Tommy Trojan statue may notice something different this week. That’s because he’s wrapped in protective tape as an army of Trojan Knights watch him around the clock in light of the annual USC vs. UCLA football game this coming Saturday.
Founded in 1921, the Knights of Troy are an all-male spirit and service group committed to upholding tradition, and they do not take this responsibility lightly. One of the most profound experiences as a Trojan horse is the annual Tommy Watch which takes place during Rivalry Week.
Across the campus in the village, USC Helenes, a service group celebrating its 100th anniversary as an organization at USC, stands guard over the Hecubus Statue, a bronze sculpture 12-foot tall statue of the Queen of Troy which was added to the campus in the fall of 2017.
“I can’t wait to sleep here, especially as more of us are making red-eye changes this semester,” said Alexia Sembrano, Senior Director and Director of Diversity, Equity and inclusion of Helenes. “I’m very excited to just watch the sunset [and] Sunrise.”
The Knights of Troy and the Helenes are not leaving their posts in the days leading up to the USC-UCLA game.
For the Trojan Knights, Rivalry Week means sleeping bags, blankets, a coffee maker and any other “armor” they need to protect their beloved Tommy Trojan statue from vandalism by the people. UCLA football fans.
“In 2019, the first time I did it, it was raining a lot,” said junior Will Chambers, who is in his second year of watching Tommy Trojan. “And that made it painful from an electronic point of view. But pull on a sweatshirt or a hooded parka, whatever, and you’re good to go.
To spend their long shifts guarding the statue, Helen can be found playing games, eating, and sometimes even sleeping. They also play volleyball in front of Hecuba and listen to Taylor Swift’s new album “Red”. The Helenes run a food drive alongside the Trojan Knights throughout the week and all donated items will benefit local shelters.
“It’s nice to be able to walk outside and interact with the USC community. Mainly because we haven’t supervised for two years, it’s really nice to be back, ”said Sambrano.
Despite the weather, the Trojan Knights try to keep their spirits up by throwing Frisbees and having a friendly chat.
They view the work they do as a privilege rather than an obligation, honored to carry on the legacy of the Knights of Troy whose commitment to USC is evident and undeniable.
“We start at midnight on Sunday and then we run the entire seven days, 24/7, the entire way,” Chambers said. “[I] take my only class today here and then work out somehow [and] usually hang around and make sure no Bruin comes around.
The tradition of keeping Tommy Trojan started in the early 40’s when UCLA fans painted the statue in retaliation to the Trojan Knights by stealing a bell donated to UCLA by their alumni association.
Rivalry week has always been riddled with pranks from both schools, and one of the more recent pranks cost UCLA $ 40,000 when USC students vandalized the towering bronze Bruin Bear statue with red and yellow paint in 2009.
Now known to both universities as the Victory Bell, the winner of the annual rivalry game takes possession of the bell for the coming year. When USC wins, the Trojan Knights are tasked with protecting it.
The highly anticipated annual rivalry game takes place on November 20 at 1:00 p.m. PST.