Q&A: Axe Committee Chair Alex Hou ’21

Student-run club maintains spirit despite unprecedented Big Game conditions

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As the self-proclaimed “Custodians of Stanford Spirit, Tradition and Revelry,” the Stanford Axe Committee is arguably the student group most involved in Big Game Week. The club’s primary responsibility is to guard and care for The Axe, but it also leads annual tradition such as camping in White Plaza, lighting Hoover Tower and dyeing campus fountains red, among others.

But like many things this year, Big Game traditions and the Stanford Axe Committee itself will look different this year.

Ahead of the 123rd Big Game, set for Friday, Interim Chair and Director of Big Game Week Operations Alex Hou ’21 reflects on the role of the committee and how it is keeping traditions alive, despite empty stadiums and college campuses.

Hou is filling in as chair this quarter for Carlino Cuono ’21, who is on a leave of absence. A New Jersey native, Hou originally joined the Axe Committee as a sophomore.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you get involved with Axe Committee in the first place?

Alex Hou (AH): I had been a part of other clubs and didn’t really fit with them. I messaged one of my friends and said, “How’s Axe Committee?” And he said, “You should really join.” I came to the first meeting and absolutely loved it. To give you some context, I’m a huge sports fan. I grew up in and right now am in Short Hills, New Jersey. I’ve been a huge Yankee fan, New Yorks Giants fan, New Yorks Knicks fan. I went to high school without much school spirit, so being a part of a club that is rooted in tradition and rooted in school spirit has been really, really amazing. One of my fondest memories of AxeComm was actually stepping out onto Stanford Stadium for the very first time for training — where we did our flag training and whistle training, all that stuff. That was a really cool experience. One of the big things of AxeComm is we all love watching Stanford sports and hoping Stanford succeeds in every single sporting activity.

Axe Committee members showcase the trophy prior to the 122nd Big Game. (Photo: GRANT SHORIN/isiphotos.com)

TSD: What do AxeComm traditions look like this year? What is new and how have existing traditions evolved?

AH: Obviously, this looks very, very different, where we are all at our homes or quarantining with other friends. Usually at this time or the week before we’d be sitting together in the cold in the birdcage, spending the night, blowing the whistle at the top of every hour and be having a Big Game rally to look forward. But unfortunately, you know, this year it’s just not feasible to have a Big Game rally. [On AxeComm’s Instagram] we’ve been posting at the top of most hours a short video from either a campus celebrity or from one of us — explaining the importance of AxeComm to us; the importance of Big Game; saying, “There are now X hours until Big Game, Beat Cal;” doing our own funny imitation of the Stanford train whistle… We’ve had one [Zoom] hangout each day, where we can come in and just hang out and talk. It’s been great but, yeah, obviously sucks that we’re far apart. We’re trying to do the best we can to still make it Big Game Week.

AH: Some of our original plans included lighting Hoover Tower red over Big Game Week and also creating a Big Game rally video. Unfortunately — as a lot of people are busy, even during this time of quarantine — the video probably will not happen. We were all set to light the tower red until Santa Clara County increased their COVID restrictions, so that became not feasible. We’re still hopefully planning on lighting the tower anyways; it will just be when students come back on campus in winter quarter to be a welcome back.

TSD: Many people only know about AxeComm for what they do during Big Game Week. What goes on the rest of the year?

AH: Generally we are on the football field for every single home game — where we are waving flags, we’re blowing the train whistle for every touchdown and field goal, we’re raising the nets and we’re hyping up the crowd… We are also a presence at every single men’s and women’s basketball games. And so we are running out there during timeouts waving flags; we throw we throw swag out to the crowd. That’s been amazing, and I’ve met actually some really, really cool celebrities through that process. Last year, my biggest moment was meeting Steph Curry because [he] came to watch Sabrina Ionescu when he she played Stanford. And also Russell Wilson has come — his sister is Anna Wilson, who’s on the women’s basketball team… Then in the spring, we usually tend to do a get together. Then over the summer, we are the ones who send out the Stanford traditions mailer that all the incoming frosh get; we do that in conjunction with the university.

Stanford claims The Axe in 2007 (above). Stanford historically leads Cal in the rivalry’s all-time record 59-44-10. (Photo: PETER KRUTZIK/[email protected])

TSD: On the flip side, why is Big Game Week so special?

AH: Stanford AxeComm was founded around the notion that we are to protect The Axe at all costs, so Big Game Week is especially memorable for us because we’re the one to guard The Axe… For us, Big Game is bigger than just any rivalry game; it’s a chance for us, for Stanford, to retain The Axe — which is such a prized possession at Stanford and such a big item of tradition that was part of Stanford for almost the past decade. Unfortunately, we’ve lost The Axe last year — but not many people want to talk about that. For us, Big Game Week is a chance to really also show who we usually are. We’re so present in most, if not all the activities, that happen during a traditional Big Game Week — whether it’s we put on a rally in on the frosh night of Gaieties (I had plans to move it out of MemAud onto White Plaza so that the whole campus can see) or when the band puts Oski on The Claw. We are the ones who are watching it to make sure that no one takes it. We’re literally hanging out at White Plaza for (what was supposed to be) 123 hours straight, day and night. We’re the ones who dye the fountains red, hang up the big “Beat Cal” banner at Green, light Hoover Tower red. We do all of that stuff. It’s really the most memorable week because it’s a combination of all of the work that we put in before this weekend had to happen — all the hard work from officers and the members of the club to really make the game happen smoothly. There’s definitely a sense of pride with that.

TSD: Can you explain how the handing over of The Axe will work now that there will be no fans or AxeComm members in California Memorial Stadium?

AH: There will be a socially-distanced staredown; with two minutes left to go in the fourth quarter, two people from Axe Committee and two people from the UC Berkeley Rally Committee will do a staredown in the stands where the Axe will be handed over to Axe Committee, where it truly belongs.

AxeComm waving flags at the 2011 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo: DON FERIA/stanfordphoto.com)

TSD: Do you have any predictions for Friday’s game?

AH: My obvious prediction is going to be that Stanford wins. I think that this is a very unique year given that both teams are coming in with chips on their shoulders, with 0-2 records. Both teams have their obvious weaknesses. I think it’s going to be unlike every other year, where Cal’s defense has been very good; Cal’s defense [this season] has shown a lot of signs of weakness. At the same time, Stanford’s defense is not the best either. So I think it will be a high scoring shootout, but Stanford will win by, I’m gonna say, 10 points.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

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Cybele Zhang '22 is a Senior Staff Writer majoring in English Literature with a minor in German Studies. The Los Angeles-native previously served as Sports Editor (Vol. 255, 257 and 258). Her recent work focuses on women in sports and the intended cut of men's volleyball. Contact her at czhang 'at' stanforddaily.com.