Cane Spree, regarded as the first organized intramural event, grew out of riots between freshmen and sophomores on Nassau Street in the 1860s. It was the fashion of the times for gentlemen to carry walking sticks, but freshmen who did so were subject to hazing. Sophomores, provoked by freshmen flaunting their canes as they promenaded down Nassau Street, felt obliged to wrestle the canes away. In 1869 the sophomore class issued a proclamation that prohibited freshmen from carrying canes, but it was often ignored: on many an autumn evening, cane-equipped freshmen met the sophomores in front of the University's main gates, and melee ensued.
By the mid-1870s, the administration had stepped in to control Cane Spree, limiting the number of contestants and moving the field of action to the green between Alexander Hall and Witherspoon. Abuses still arose, however, and in 1891 Cane Spree was abolished. Freshmen and sophomores were soon back to fighting — without canes, using three-foot hickory sticks.
Cane Spree changed over the decades. Intramural football and basketball games became part of the class contests, in addition to cane wrestling and tug-of-war. By 1950 the event resembled a Freshman-Sophomore Field Day. The Athletics Department became involved and added tennis, soccer, swimming and volleyball. In the 1960s and 1970s, Cane Spree took place during Freshman Week as a means to encourage class cohesiveness. In the 1980s Cane Spree was moved to coincide with the first home football game of the fall, usually the last weekend in September.
Cane Spree currently takes place at the Princeton Football Stadium. On a late afternoon in early October, freshmen and sophomores, men and women, battle for class supremacy on Powers Field, competing in relay races, obstacle courses and various other sport activities. At the end of the day, all convene for the traditional cane wrestling, followed by a BBQ supper on the concourse at the stadium.