Recounting Oberlin’s Storied Rivalry with Kenyon College


Holly Yelton

Oberlin College and Kenyon College athletics have a storied rivalry.

It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt, and this has certainly been the case for Oberlin and its longtime rival, Kenyon College. Formed from frequent athletic matches and the similarity between the two schools, this rivalry has been embedded in the cultures of both schools; the Yeomen and the Owls have been close competitors for as long as students and faculty can remember.

Oberlin closely competes with schools such as Ashland University, Denison University, and The College of Wooster, yet Kenyon has traditionally been the largest and longest running rival. In 1892, the schools clashed at the first ever football game between the two colleges. The Yeomen won the game with a score of 38–0, crushing the Owls in a heart-stopping first victory. The current statistics show that Oberlin leads the all-time record, 44–41–6. Even though the Yeomen fell to Kenyon this year in a close 28–21 game during Homecoming weekend, they will surely be back with a vengeance next fall.

The energy between all of the players, coaches, and spectators is increasingly electric in comparison to when Oberlin plays any other team.
“The rivalry isn’t just in football, either,” Jason Hewitt, OC ’20, wrote in an Oberlin blog post. “I’ve watched many Oberlin sports teams compete in athletic events … and I can honestly say that when our teams play against Kenyon, the energy is different.”

This rivalry stems primarily from similarity. Both Oberlin and Kenyon have a small student body of less than 3,000 students and are private four-year schools that are ranked in the top 50 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Students will typically pay similar tuition to attend either school and have similar chances of admissions based on the acceptance rates. Because these schools mirror each other in so many ways, they compete in terms of academic prestige and athletic recruitment.

Oberlin’s rivalry with Kenyon mimics those often seen at larger, more athletically adept universities. Big 10 schools such as the rivalry between the University of Michigan and The Ohio State University. OSU will cross out Michigan’s “M” throughout the city on game days, a tradition that Oberlin mimics; on game days, the Yeomen cross out the K on banners, shirts, and any items that display support for the Owls. A Kenyon pendant with a crossed out K was even included in a raffle during the women’s soccer Homecoming game this year.

Sometimes one may wonder: why is this rivalry such a big deal? Every institution within a particular niche wants to be the most prestigious and lauded. Both Oberlin and Kenyon attract students from across the nation because of what their respective campuses have to offer. Perhaps because the schools are so similar, this rivalry is one that will most likely live on for many years to come.