Trojan Knights and USC Helenes redefine the all-nighter

Service organizations honored to continue the legacy of protecting Tommy Trojan and Hecuba from getting ‘Bruined.’

A student plays football in front of a Tommy Trojan statue covered in plastic on Nov. 15 2021 at the start of Rivalry Week.

Students passing by the Tommy Trojan statue may notice something different this week. That’s because it’s wrapped in protective tape while an army of Trojan Knights stand watch over it at all hours in light of the annual USC vs. UCLA rivalry football game this coming Saturday.

Founded in 1921, Trojan Knights are an all-male spirit and service group committed to guarding tradition, and they do not take this responsibility lightly. One of the most profound experiences as a Trojan Knight is the annual Tommy Watch that takes place during rivalry week.

Across the campus, in the Village, the USC Helenes, a service group that celebrates its 100th year as an organization at USC, stands guard over the Hecuba statue, a 12-foot bronze sculpture of the Queen of Troy that was added to campus in the fall of 2017.

“I’m looking forward to just being able to sleep here especially since more of us are doing redeye shifts this semester,” said senior and Helenes Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Alexia Sembrano. “I’m very excited to just watch the sunset [and] sunrise.”

The Trojan Knights and the Helenes don’t leave their posts in the days leading up to the USC-UCLA game.

For the Trojan Knights, rivalry week means sleeping bags, blankets, a coffee machine and any other “armour” they need to protect their beloved Tommy Trojan statue from being vandalized by UCLA football fans.

“In 2019, the first time I did it, it was raining quite a bit,” said junior Will Chambers who is in his second year standing watch over Tommy Trojan. “And that made things painful from an electronic standpoint. But throw on a sweatshirt or a parka hoodie, anything, and you’re good to go.”

To pass their long shifts guarding the statue, Helenes can be found playing games, eating and even sleeping at times. They also play volleyball in front of Hecuba and listen to the new Taylor Swift “Red” album. The Helenes manage a food drive alongside the Trojan Knights throughout the week and all items donated will benefit local shelters.

“It’s nice just to be able to walk outside and interact with the USC community. Especially because we haven’t kept watch in two years, it’s definitely nice to be back out,” Sambrano said.

Despite the weather, the Trojan Knights make an effort to keep morale high by throwing frisbees and chatting amicably.

They view the work they do as a privilege rather than an obligation, honored to carry on a legacy of Trojan Knights whose commitment to USC is apparent and undeniable.

“We start at midnight on Sunday and then run the entire seven days, 24/7 the entire way,” Chambers said. “[I] take my one class today here and then play some sports just kind of [and] generally hang out and make sure that no Bruins come around.”

Rivalry week has historically been riddled with pranks from both schools, and one of the more recent pranks cost UCLA $40,000 when USC students vandalized the imposing, bronze Bruin Bear statue with red and yellow paint in 2009.

The tradition of guarding Tommy Trojan began in the early 1940s when UCLA fans painted the statue in retaliation to the Trojan Knights stealing a bell bestowed to UCLA by their alumni association.

Now known by the two 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 will take place Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. PST.