Guardians of Tommy Trojan. Keepers of the Victory Bell. Upholders of beloved university traditions. They’re USC’s Trojan Knights, and their brotherhood stretches back to 1921.

Current president Jack Stolrow embodies their century-old tradition. He is carrying on a Knights family legacy — even if he didn’t realize it at first. He wanted to be a Knight after spotting them at a football game as a teen. What he didn’t know back then: His father had led the group when he was a student. “My dad gave me the tie he wore as president,” he says. “I wear it under my Trojan Knights uniform and sweater crest.”

As the group celebrates its centennial, Knights are coming together across generations to share stories of unbreakable bonds, school spirit and just plain fun.

The Card Stunt: Ben Wong ’73, PhD ’78

Ben Wong

Ben Wong (Photo/Courtesy of Ben Wong)

Wong enjoyed participating in student government as a high school student in West Covina, California, so the Trojan Knights pulled him in when he arrived at USC. Another attraction: “Getting to sit on the 30-yard line during football games.”

Yes, watching football was a big draw, but so were game-day antics. As leaders of the student cheer section, the Knights organized card stunts — messages displayed by swaths of stadium attendees holding up colored cards. During Wong’s senior year, the Trojans faced off against UCLA in a televised matchup for a spot in the Rose Bowl. The final card stunt was planned to happen during a commercial break, so it wouldn’t appear on TV. The Knights got creative with it.

“The university-approved stunts said: ‘Why do people,’ which flipped to ‘Go to UCLA?’ and then to ‘Westwood Sucks Them In,’” he says. During the game, students split the last message into two parts so the words ‘Them In’ were displayed on their own.

“ABC Sports decided to stay on the stunts,” Wong remembers. “When ‘Westwood Sucks’ popped up, reportedly sports announcer Keith Jackson gasped, ‘Oh my God,’ at which point ABC took it off the air and the TV audience never saw it.”

Wong calls his time with the Knights unforgettable: “I forged friendships that are still going strong 50 years later.”

A Century of Traditions: Jim Lewis ’97

Jim Lewis

Jim Lewis (Photo/Courtesy of Jim Lewis)

During USC’s Rivalry Week, Lewis learned about the Trojan Knights. The cross section of campus leaders, as well as their sister organization, the USC Helenes, impressed the Torrance, California, native. “I’ve always loved USC’s traditions and pageantry,” he says, “so I was interested in the lifelong connection to the university through the Knights.”

During his senior year, the public policy and management major became president and had a personal mission: Bring back card stunts. In fall 1996, he made it happen. He stood on the football field calling stunts beside Ann Bothwell, the wife of the late Lindley Bothwell ’24. Lindley Bothwell, who is widely credited for inventing card stunts at football games, was also one of the Knights’ founders. “Ann said, ‘He’s looking at you from heaven and he’s proud,’” Lewis says. “Undoubtedly, that was my most magical experience as a Trojan Knight.”

Lewis also learned firsthand about the responsibilities that come with leadership. The best leaders, he says, step forward to serve first and inspire others by example. “It also taught me that a leader is ultimately responsible for all the actions of a group,” he says. “I must hold others accountable because I will be held accountable.”

A Knightsgiving: Madison Ainley ’11

Madison Ainley

Madison Ainley (Photo/Courtesy of Madison Ainley)

A spring admit who had been homeschooled through high school, Ainley initially felt disconnected from USC campus life. During a USC Involvement Fair, the cinema and television production major from Paragould, Arkansas, spied a sword-wielding student and had to investigate. “That’s when I met Benji Silva,” Ainley recalls.

Silva ’09 was president of the Knights, and he filled Ainley in on the group. “There was a fraternal element and a pride of place,” says Ainley, who appreciated the initiation requirements of learning about USC’s history. “The backstories are the lifeblood of what made the university what it is today.”

Ainley’s favorite moments included going to his first football game in full body paint, carving pumpkins with students at a nearby K-12 magnet school, escorting President Barack Obama during a campus visit and raising funds to restore the Center for International and Public Affairs’ carillon bell, which hadn’t rung in 10 years.

Then there was guarding Tommy Trojan during Conquest. One year, the 24/7 guard duties fell during Thanksgiving. “The Knights and their families threw Knightsgiving dinner in front of Tommy Trojan,” Ainley says. “It reminded me why USC is so special — we’re a Trojan Family, and that bond is eternal, unbreakable and goes generations deep.”

Across Generations: Jack Stolrow, senior

Jack Stolrow sits with his father, Greg Stolrow, on the Trojan Knights Bench at the University Park Campus. They wear their Trojan Knights shirts and hold two fingers in USC victory sign

Jack Stolrow (Photo/Isabelle Vu)

During high school, Stolrow was attending a USC football game at the Coliseum when he spotted several Trojans in cardinal sweaters on the field ringing a bell. When the San Clemente native learned who they were, he declared, “I want to be a Trojan Knight.” Later, Stolrow asked his father, Greg Stolrow ’84, if he’d heard of the Knights. His response: “Dude, I was president of the Trojan Knights.”

Stolrow spent his first year of college in Paris but felt out of place, transferring to USC in fall 2019. One day, he noticed a student wearing a Trojan Knights shirt and it renewed his interest. “It was Outreach Week, so I met some Knights at a barbecue,” he says. “I immediately knew I’d found my home at USC.”

During his new member trial semester, the narrative studies major fell in love with USC’s history. “I still comb through old Daily Trojan articles,” he says. “On my wall is a document from the Trojan Knights’ archives talking about my dad’s presidency.” In November 2020, Stolrow stepped into the role himself, with his father handing down his tie as a symbolic passing of the torch.

A full-circle moment occurred last year when the local ABC station filmed a special on the Victory Bell. This time, Stolrow wasn’t the teen in the stands awestruck by the Knights. Now he was the Knight in full regalia on the football field sharing the history of the famed trophy.

 

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