Banned tradition rolling its way back to McGuirk

Fans throw toilet paper onto the court during a Central Michigan University men's basketball game in this 1980s archival photo. Image courtesy of the Clark Historical Library, Central Michigan University

Forty years ago, Central Michigan University hosted its first toilet paper toss. After the Chippewas scored their first basket, fans erupted by throwing rolls of toilet paper onto the court. 

On Saturday Jan. 28, in celebration of CMU hosting Mid-American Conference rivals Western Michigan, the tradition is making its return just before tip-off. 

Along with toilet paper being provided, fans are encouraged to wear white. The first 2,500 fans will receive white pompoms, and the first 250 students will get a free Snake Pit tee shirt in honor of the former name of the Chippewas student section. Courtesy of QDOBA, the first 200 students will get a wristband upon entry inviting them to a free half-time meal. 

Since the year 2000, Western Michigan has won a total of 18 out of 35 games with CMU. With a win on Saturday, the Chippewas will tie the Broncos and redeem themselves from last year’s 77-63 loss.

As of Jan. 25, CMU and the Broncos have a 2-5 record in MAC play.

History of the toss

During the 1980s, students living in the residence halls challenged each other to different contests to try and prove which residence had the best school spirit. 

Attempting to claim the throne of most spirited residence hall, Thorpe Hall came up with the idea of bringing toilet paper to one of the men's basketball games to throw on the court during a game on Feb.5, 1983.

Little did they know what they were starting. 

Throughout the 80s, the trend of throwing toilet paper onto the court went back and forth, never really catching on. It wasn't until the 1986-87 season that it became a well-known occurrence.

"The opponent just was ready for it," Public Services Librarian Bryan Whitledge said. "They let CMU win the tip, let them go do their thing, let them dunk. 

"Picture this scene: CMU wins the tip, 'Lightning' Leavy (Ervin Leavy) gets it, tosses it down the court to streaking Dan Majerle who slams it home (and) toilet paper rains on the court. 

"Opposing teams didn't like to come to Central," he concluded. "It was a tough place to play." 

 “We were packed every night," Majerle said. “The first bucket when the toilet paper came out, it was just - it was awesome. I've never been really involved in something like that. And it was very exciting. It was a lot of fun.” 

It became a staple that not only put CMU on the map, but it became a sense of pride for the students and faculty. 

“But it was a tradition like none other I've ever seen," Majerle said. “It was totally crazy. I mean … it looked like it was snowing inside the arena with all the toilet paper and it was something that was very special.” 

According to a Feb. 13, 1987, article in Central Michigan Life, the toilet paper toss “has become something for Chippewa fans to be proud of.” Then-head basketball coach Charlie Coles told the paper, “It’s something we do better than anyone else in the country."

A sense of pride soon became a problem, as students took it to extreme levels. 

"Some of the students weren't really approaching the event with the best spirit," Whitledge said. "They were turning the rolls of toilet paper into a projectile, they were soaking it in water and tossing it at the other team."

Attempting to ease the toilet paper fiasco, residence halls' front desk staff had sign-up sheets tracking every request for a roll of toilet paper and making note of how often certain rooms needed refills leading up to basketball games. 

With residences halls tracking the amount of toilet paper, students got creative, finding free rolls in different buildings across campus. Local grocery stores assisted the students by advertising the sale of toilet paper right before each game.

CMU officials responded by halting students from throwing toilet paper. The MAC made a rule banning the throwing of any objects onto the court during a game.

According to the Dec. 14, 1987, issue of CM Life: "Since everyone knew simply asking students to stop would provide insufficient, all rolls of tissue will be confiscated at the door. Any person who smuggles the toilet paper into Rose and tosses it will be escorted from the arena."

While the tradition came to end, it was brought back for one game on Feb. 9, 2004, to celebrate Central Michigan's 100th season of men's basketball. That was the last time CMU participated in a toilet paper toss. 

- Sports Editor Ashley Birkeness contributed to this story.