Runners — don’t pucker up quite yet: COVID-19 has unfortunately gotten in the way of a time-honored Boston Marathon tradition.
Around the marathon’s halfway point, Wellesley College students have been cheering runners on with screams, high fives, and, more recently, kisses, for decades. Though perhaps it was never very sanitary, an ongoing pandemic means students are being encouraged not to engage in the smooching part of the scream tunnel tradition.
The Boston Athletic Association even mentioned it in health and safety policies, though Wellesley College wasn’t specifically called out.
“From guests traveling with athletes to spectators cheering on participants, everyone is encouraged to take efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” BAA wrote. “These efforts may include being fully vaccinated, getting tested for COVID-19 prior to any travel, wearing a mask when you cannot socially distance over race week, [and] refraining from kissing a stranger around the halfway mark of the Boston Marathon.”
Though the school didn’t mention kissing, a spokesperson from Wellesley College told Boston.com they will be providing additional COVID-19 health guidance to students ahead of Marathon Monday.
“Students will be asked to wear masks outside while they gather to watch the race, to not share food or drink, and to not touch the runners or have any physical contact as they go by,” they said.
Similarly, the town spokesperson told Boston.com Wellesley supports the BAA’s guidelines and is working with the college to keep the community safe.
“In our regular communications to residents, we remind everyone to keep practicing the well-known behaviors that help control the virus – maintaining distance from others, wearing masks when appropriate, and practicing good hygiene,” they said. “We’re confident that residents, runners, and visitors will do their part to make the 125th Boston Marathon a safe event for all.”
Since students and runners will have to sacrifice the tradition this year in the name of reducing viral transmission, here’s a little walk down memory lane.
The first Boston Marathon was held in 1897, about 22 years after Wellesley College opened. Students cheered on a Harvard runner in that first year, and a 1911 clipping about “hundreds” of Wellesley students at the marathon was headlined “cheered on by the girls.”
Women weren’t officially allowed to participate until 1972, which is when the ritual really took off, according to Wellesley College’s website.
A 2018 Boston.com article explored the origins of the kissing tradition, and traced it back to modest beginnings in 1993, when a Boston Globe article mentioned students kissing runners on the cheek.
“But as the women of Wellesley College provided vocal support for [female runners] Markova, Yegorova and others, they also greeted the male runners enthusiastically,” Peter May wrote for the Globe. “And the men connected with the crowd. Many exchanged high fives with the students. Some blew kisses, while others gave a fist salute.”
Wellesley’s Munger Hall, the dorm building facing the marathon route, has historically been tasked with making the now-famous signs held up by students along the tunnel. Everyone is encouraged to make their own, but in 2011 the hall formalized the process by creating two social media accounts to take requests for runners.
It was first mentioned as the “screech” tunnel in 1996, and the Wellesley News in 2000, then the Globe in 2002, referred to it as a “scream” tunnel.
Though the kisses will be absent this year, Wellesley students are on campus and may still carry on the tradition of motivating runners when they’re hitting the halfway point with absolutely deafening cheers.
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