Cortaca 2023 Has the Feel of a Family Reunion

By Charles McKenzie, November 12, 2023
Iconic game returns to IC's campus for the first time since 2017.

During Ithaca College move-in weekend 14 years ago, a football friendship was forged when two sets of cars carrying two first-year linemen pulled up to the back of the dorm at the same time. From those cars emerged two new roommates and one forever family, and this weekend, the Cortaca Jug once again gave them another chance for an outdoor family reunion.

They were among the many thousands Saturday who came from far and wide to the first Cortaca Jug to be held at IC’s campus since 2017.  Pitting No. 14 Ithaca against No. 15 Cortland, it was the 64th Cortaca Jug.

Chris Strand ’13 was not content to watch it online. He left Indianapolis at 5 a.m. Friday and drove 10 hours to the Ithaca College bookstore where he loaded up on gear for himself and his wife, a 2012 alumna. Then he did exactly what he did all four years at Ithaca College: he stayed with his roommate Matt Hartz ’13.

“I was there at MetLife Stadium and at Yankee Stadium, but there is just something really special about being back on campus for Cortaca. I come every chance I get.”

Chris Strand '13

“I definitely was not going to miss this game, especially being back here for the first time in so long,” Strand said while tailgating before this year’s contest. "I was there at MetLife Stadium and at Yankee Stadium, but there is just something really special about being back on campus for Cortaca. I come every chance I get.”

Except for the game at MetLife Stadium, Strand’s old roommate Hartz has come to every Cortaca Jug for 14 years, including three that he played in. He jokes that almost all of the fond memories he has are as a fan though, and not as an offensive lineman.


Fans had plenty of chances to check out Bomber swag during the President's tailgate. (Photo by Charles McKenzie)

“Sadly, I was part of that really rough stretch of seven straight losses to Cortland,” he says, remembering the moment Cortland sealed the third win in that streak. “I was there on the offensive line when they had that goal-line stand. That was a rough one.”

“We don’t like to talk about that one,” his tailgating family interjected.

Hartz still lives in Lansing and says it was fun to put up his old roommate. The two even served at one another’s wedding as best man.

They met at move-in during their first year on campus, their family cars pulling up behind the dorm at the exact same moment. That fateful afternoon in 2009, their families arrived as strangers but left as lifelong friends. This year, Jennie and Bill Strand even stayed with Bev ’83 and Greg Hartz, who also live locally. 

The family atmosphere stretched across the parking lot, where a former Cortland cheerleader was setting aside her allegiance to cheer on Will Richardson ’26, IC’s long-snapping business administration major. In fact, Alyssa Bowen cheered for Cortland at MetLife Stadium, but arrived two years later at Yankee Stadium with an ever-so-slight change of heart.

Person with sign

Alyssa Bowen was a former Cortland cheerleader whose younger brother Will Richardson ’26 (pictured on shirt) serves as the Bombers' long-snapper. (Photo by Charles McKenzie)

“I feel a little bit like I’m betraying Cortland, but I think I can still be here supporting them and supporting my brother too. It’s actually been really great,” she said at the tailgate while holding a bigger-than-life foam picture of his face that was mounted on a yard stick. His smiling face was also emblazoned across her shirt. “It’s kind of weird though. He was my little brother when I was at Cortland, and now he’s 6 foot 3 and starting for Ithaca College. But I just love watching him.”

Farther down tailgating row in front of the Dillingham Center, theatre major Sam Barao ’25 waited most of her life to come to Cortaca at IC. She attended the game for the first time last year at Yankee Stadium.

“I had an older sister who went here, so ever since I was eight, I have been hearing how much fun she had going to Cortaca here with all of her friends.” For the younger Barao, one furry friend stands out, a big dog on campus with his own Instagram account. Busy licking her face, black Lab Giorgio was not even born the last time Cortaca was on campus, and his human companion Fern Holston was still in high school.

“I had heard so much about Cortaca before I even got here because I had friends from back home who knew about it," she said as she held Giorgio. “Even though I’m not a football person, I really wanted to come see it for myself.”

While she enjoys the camaraderie more than the games themselves, it's both aspects that keep the Hartz and Strand families coming back.

“I just love the atmosphere and supporting the guys on the field,” said Matt Hartz, who knows what it’s like out there. “Playing in it, there’s something about it that you don’t get anywhere else really. It’s completely unique, even though I tried to tell myself that it was just another game. It was hard to do, but that’s how I tried to approach it.”

“Being in a D-III school, this game with the crowds that show up and the importance, it just feels like a D-I rivalry,” said his former teammate and roommate Chris Strand. “It’s a great family. A great atmosphere. I bleed Bomber Blue.”  

“We stick together.”

And stay together. Just like always.