The Golden Spike: A Living Legacy of Jack Seibold '50
Siebold's legacy lives on in a treasured honor given after senior season.
East Lansing, Mich. -- Terry Inch, the CEO of Onstar and a 1982 graduate of the Michigan State University, summed up his collegiate swimming career like this, "I have fond memories of the years I spent as a member of the Michigan State swimming and diving team. During my time in the program, I picked up and developed many important leadership lessons that I was able to transfer into some modicum of success in my professional life."
Marlys (Fuqua) Roberts `09, a woman who graduated out of the same program 27 years later, echoed Inch. She described her time at Michigan State by saying, "Swimming is tough, swimming and earning a degree is harder, but it's well worth every exhausting day, every aching limb, and every crushing defeat."
Inch and Roberts, like hundreds of other Spartan swimmers and divers, own a golden spike: a simple railroad tie painted gold hung by a ribbon with a poem attached, given to them upon graduation. The Golden Spike is the ultimate tradition of Michigan State swimming and diving. A symbol awarded to 71 consecutive classes of male Spartans and 25 classes of female Spartans.
As current head coach Matt Gianiodis says, "Our kids view the golden spike in higher esteem than their Varsity letter. It ties them to so many generations of Spartan swimmers and divers that have toiled, mostly in anonymity, before them."
The Golden Spike has very humble roots. It was the idea of Jack Seibold, a 1950 graduate of Michigan State. Due mostly to World War II, Jack had the opportunity to swim at Michigan State College with his two older brothers, Dave and Paul. When his oldest brother Paul reached graduation, Jack and Dave talked about legacy. They wanted to leave a lasting symbol for the swimming program. It was Jack's idea to give graduates a spike that they could symbolically nail into the wall and hang their suit on. For a land grant college with agricultural roots, the idea fit well. Thus, in 1948, the first class of Spartan swimmers and divers received a spike at graduation to "hang up" their career.
Gus Seibold, the father of the three Seibold brothers, liked his son's idea of a spike. However, he thought the symbol was a little too plain. He approached the Seibold boys about painting them gold. The boys agreed that it should be a Golden Spike and so they began painting the spikes. Dave Seibold describes it, "Jack was the driving force behind the spike. It was really his passion that kept it going." That passion led Jack to compose a poem around the Golden Spike Ceremony. The four-stanza poem, appropriately titled "Hang it up" greatly expresses the emotions that all swimmers go through when they realize their swimming career is over. Golden Spike honorees have heard that poem while receiving the spike every year since.
Through the years, other changes have happened in the ceremony. Soon, parents began accompanying the seniors as they received the Golden Spike. In 1994, after Michigan State became the first Big Ten university to combine the men's and women's programs, female graduates began receiving the Golden Spike. In addition, retiring coaches began receiving Spikes in honor for their service to the program. It has even expanded to include an administrative assistant and even a long time motor coach operator who served the team for many years.
Seventy-one years of recipients means there is a diverse group of people with one thing in common. Over decades, the Golden Spike has bound strangers who are decades apart in age together at the annual Alumni swim meet, held on homecoming every year since 1955.
In 2006, a group of swimmers who were at Michigan State from 1972-1982 gathered in East Lansing to have an inaugural "Golden Spike Reunion." The organizer, Steve Ploussard, was a former team captain, who swam at MSU from 1976-79. The reunion involved a golf tournament and a banquet where Dave and Jack Seibold were the honored guests. Bruce Wright `76 said about the experience, "My teammate Greg Forman and his dad, and Steve Ploussard created a t-shirt for the reunion. On the back of that shirt is a giant Sparty helmet wearing the golden spike and green ribbon with the motto "Hang it Up, Hang it Up". My shirt is now full of patched holes and falling apart. I proudly wear it anytime I work out at the gym. Every now and then I get a "Go Green" from a passerby."
Many alumni display their Golden Spike in their home years after graduation. Thomas Munley '96 tells of how his Spike hung in his home office for nearly 20 years, "after baby #2 I had to give up the home office (but) the plan is to move the spike to my office." Munley, a former All-American, went on to say, "It is the most meaningful thing I have from swimming. Being able to get that after four years of swimming and knowing that every male swimmer since World War II has one, it is definitely worth more than anything else."
Roberts said of her spike, "My golden spike is displayed in our office, along with more of mine and my husband's most treasured swimming memorabilia. It's fitting, for us, for it to be hanging where it is - as a daily reminder of a chapter in our lives that taught us more than just what hard work meant, but gave us a blueprint for how to be successful in all aspects of life."
Jack Seibold would order bulk amounts of railroad ties to be sure that he would have enough every year for the graduates. He often joked how sorry he felt for the mail carrier who had to deliver the heavy package full of metal spikes to his house. All three of Jack's daughters would talk about how meticulously Jack prepared the Spikes. He would file them and paint them in a specific way. He would make sure that the ribbons, green for the male graduates and white for the female graduates that the spikes hung on were perfect and that a copy of his poem attached to each spike.
Laura Caudill, Jack's oldest daughter, picked up the torch as the keeper when, in 2016, health issues kept her father from coming to the awards banquet. She has recited the "Hang it Up" poem at the annual team awards banquet the last three years. Laura recalls the story that when she was preparing to replace her father in reading his poem, she had explicit instructions on how to recite the poem. She spoke of how she had to practice the poem in front of her father and he would be sure to tell her where to place emphasis on the proper syllable.
On May 8, 2018, Jack Seibold, the keeper of the Golden Spike Seal, passed away. Jack held multiple administrative titles during his 30-year career at Michigan State and he has multiple legacies at the University. His most precious was the status he held within the Spartan swimming and diving program. All Spartan swimming and diving alumni became emotional when they heard of his passing. "You have to understand", Coach Gianiodis notes, "Since we started the Spike tradition we have had multiple coaches but there has only been one Jack Seibold. What that means is for all the graduates in that time the one constant was getting your final handshake from Jack Seibold. For many of (the alumni), it was like they lost a grandfather"
Laura Seibold has signed on to continue the tradition as long as she can into the future. Jack Seibold has multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren waiting to take over if needed. "In my 21 years of watching the Golden Spike ceremony, I have always gotten choked up a bit." Gianiodis added, "It not only symbolizes what you accomplished, it also symbolizes what you are about to accomplish. You follow in the footsteps of so many great Spartan men and women. My hope is that it lives another 71 years and then some."