The search for the Stray Shot took a dramatic turn in mid-November, as a small group of Highlanders set out to protect a long-held school tradition and guard against Canterbury’s attempts to steal the storied cannonball.
On November 10, Head Prefect Ashleen Hay ’23 sent an all-school email, raising the alarm and alerting Highlanders that she had received information from “an inside source” that Canterbury’s aim was to take the Stray Shot from campus. “Canterbury is on the move,” Hay wrote. “We need to protect the Stray Shot at all costs. PROTECT IT, AND WORK TOGETHER. I know you won’t let me down.”
Around 9 p.m., during evening study hall, word spread quickly that a band of Saints was on campus. The Highlanders rallied, chasing the intruders across the Quad to the Day Student Parking Lot, where, according to Hay, they were asked to leave immediately by Craig Badger, Senior Associate Director of Admissions and Head Boys Hockey Coach, and Cassie Ruscz, Director of Residential Life. “There was outrage among everyone,” Hay said.
While no heist occurred, the Highlanders soon discovered the unwelcome visitors had raised Canterbury’s colors inside Solley Dining Hall, a move that was soundly rebuked in a video message shared with the community by a group of seniors under the heading, “Breaking News.”
“Tonight there were Saints on our campus, our grounds, and Highlanders, we know this is not acceptable. This is not something we will tolerate,” said Georgie Charette ’23.
Badger, the Administrator on Duty, confirmed the Saints were off campus for the night and encouraged the Highlanders to get a good night’s sleep and embarrass Canterbury on the field the next day. Gunn did just that, winning three out of five contests at home on November 12, “Canterbury Day.”
“Great work by all our teams and a ton of school spirit all day. Go Gunn!” said Athletic Director Mike Marich P’23 ’24.
The plot thickened that evening, however, when an image of what turned out to be a facsimile of the cannonball surfaced on social media, and the Saints celebrated what they claimed was the Stray Shot’s demise. The quest to protect the cannonball resumed. Avery Clement ’25, Amelia Martin ’25, Savanna Cicarelli ’25, Erin Duffy ’24, Ashleen Hay ’23, Layla Copen ’24, Emily Fonte ’24, and Gordon Bennett ’24 set out in the dark and rain to find the actual Stray Shot. The group received help from Sloane Walsh ’25 and Sandra Sacristán ’24 to find and decipher the clues. They believed the Stray Shot was buried next to a small greenhouse behind the maintenance barn, near the edge of campus. Armed with flashlights, a headlamp, and three shovels, they began digging. Around 7:30 p.m., Clement announced via email that the Stray Shot had been found and remained on Gunn ground, where it belongs.
“As we all know, Canterbury took the L today. However, they not only lost on the field, but they also (contrary to their DOS’s announcement) FAILED to acquire OUR legendary Stray Shot,” Clement said, promising: “New clues will be coming soon. What a day to be a Highlander.”
A Fresh Clue Delivered on Prize Night
This latest search for the Stray Shot was initiated on Prize Night on May 28, when Head of School Peter Becker spoke about the tradition of the Stray Shot, and invited Jack Gleason ’21 to provide an update and a fresh clue, so the hunt could begin.
According to a timeline created by longtime school archivist and Stray Shot enthusiast Paula Gibson Krimsky, this tradition began after T. Roderick Dew ’59, the editor of the Stray Shot magazine, persuaded his father to purchase a beach ball-sized Civil War cannonball from an antiques store and donate it to The Gunnery in honor of his graduation.
“I don't think we know why students decided to start hiding it and leaving clues so that future students would find it,” Becker said. But, as he noted, the tradition has continued, leading to adventures like the one that took place following Board Weekend in January 2013. “The Stray Shot had gone missing for a long time, at least 15 years. No one had seen it. There were some alumni from the late 80s on campus. They stayed up quite late on a Friday night, and through that, and the miracle of FaceTime, they connected with an alumnus in Ohio, who told them that the Stray Shot was buried in the corner by home plate, next to the rink. It was January, so the ground was frozen. They started heating up pots of water and they carried it down, and they melted the ground, dug it out, found it, and presented it the next morning at School Meeting. So for at least the last nine years, it has been at large in the student body.”
Steve Curry '87 P'22 confessed to purchasing the second Stray Shot in 1988, “because of the names being carved over older ones on the original,” which led to a very unique moment in 2019 when the two Stray Shots ended up side-by-side at Conroy House. According to Becker, the cannonball from January 2013 was making the rounds at the time, when “a student was — I kid you not — looking for salamanders in the creek over there, and came across the original Stray Shot [from 1959]. It’s super-duper heavy. So, we had both Stray Shots — I think we’d forgotten that there were two Stray Shots — and they were in circulation.”
Gleason first came into possession of one of the cannonballs on May 27, 2018, at the end of his freshman year. “Four friends and I went down to the turf after Prize Night, just to take pictures, and as we were walking back up, Mr. Small called us all over. In a milk crate right there was the Stray Shot,” he said, pointing to the side of the stage under the tent on Wersebe Field.
“The rising seniors had presented it to us saying, ‘We have it, we’re going to plan and hide it and make clues.’ Mr. Small told us, ‘You guys should take it. They were stupid, they left it behind,’ so we did,” Gleason said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. It took four of them to carry the purloined ball. “We carried it all the way back from here to Teddy which — I don't know if all of you know — it’s on the other side of campus.”
“Two years after we hid that, the Stray Shot was found by James Pattillo ’21, and his sister,” Sofia Pattillo ’20, he continued, hastening to add: “I shouldn't even say they found it, because they just texted me for three days straight asking me where it was until I finally told them. That’s why I’m here tonight. The clue is designed for the Stray Shot to be found within the next few days, so everyone can know who the next group is before summer. Happy searching!”
Early Morning, Before Commencement
After Prize Night concluded, Gunn students could be seen racing around campus with shovels and flashlights, plotting, planning, and digging for the Stray Shot. Based the clue Gleason provided, many anticipated it would be found right on the Quad, beneath the Gunn Pine. Sometime during the night before Commencement, a group of seniors from Gunn House captured it. The group included Sean Hall ’22, Hudson Brown ’22, Serdar Kaltalioglu ’22, Luke Peterson ’22, Quentin Sheers ’22, and Head Prefect Eddie Rayhill ’22.
“We knew it was going to be under the pine tree,” Hall said. “We had lookout crews. We had to wait until the rovers went in at 2:30 a.m. Quentin and a second person brought it back from under the pine tree into Gunn. All of us huddled in Serdar’s room and figured out what to do. All six of us walked down to the greenhouse and dug up the ground and buried it. It was like 4 a.m. It was a long night. It took a while just because of the level of security to get it. We knew the security van was around, the rovers were around, and the dorm parents were around. It took forever. It had to be perfect timing to actually get it. We were so happy the first night we found it.”
Hall said he also remembers the next morning well. “I remember at Commencement I couldn't keep my eyes open. Eddie read the first clue at the end of his Commencement remarks.”
Additional clues, primarily written by Sheers, were hidden on campus over the summer by Hall, Brown and Paul Clement ‘22. Once found, those clues led to the discovery on November 12. The game is now a-foot again, and Highlanders are waiting in anticipation for fresh clues and a new search that will allow the legend of the Stray Shot to live on.