As the 2023 football season draws closer, Southern Utah enters into the second year of the rebirth of the Battle of the Ax, a historic, nearly century-old rivalry between Southern Utah University and Utah Tech University. With a rich history riddled with mystery, controversy, and ultimately, an untimely death of the tradition, the Victory Ax has returned to the Southern Utah college football scene and is a coveted prize by both SUU and UT’s football teams and students.
A History of the Battle of the Ax
By Jake Harber
The tradition dates back to 1937, when a former history instructor at Dixie Junior College named H. Lorenzo Reid grew aware of the rivalry between what was then the Branch Agriculture College and Dixie Junior College. The idea of the award was to promote good sportsmanship and to give both teams a little more to fight for.
Another former instructor at Dixie Junior College, Charles Merkley, made the first ax upon request of Reid. BAC (Branch Agriculture College) was the first victor, beating the then Dixie Flyers in a basketball game. At first, the ax was only given to the winners of basketball games, but later applied to all athletic contests between the two schools.
Merkley had to make another ax when the original was broken when BAC students refused to transfer the ax to Dixie Junior College after Dixie won.
Many strange things have happened to the ax throughout its existence. It tended to disappear after either school lost, it was once discovered in Salt Lake City, and another time on campus at Snow College. Once, when BAC refused to deliver the ax to Dixie after a win, it was passed from person to person until the college in St. George received it through the mail.
After BAC became CSU, or the College of Southern Utah, and thanks in part to its larger enrollment, the ax spent lots of time in Cedar City with the CSU Broncos.
An official “Axe Pact” was made due to confusion and misunderstanding, stating that the ax was to be present at all competitive football, baseball, tennis, basketball games, and track meets between Dixie and CSU, and was to be presented to the winner of each match. In case of a tie, the ax stayed with the previous holder. If no team is given by either school with no notice, the ax was to be forfeited to the other school. The school with the most wins during the school year kept the ax for the summer. In case of a tie in number of wins, the last school to win any contest keeps the ax.
The left side of the ax and handle was reserved for CSU, with the right side reserved for the Dixie Rebels. Entries were engraved on half-inch aluminum bands for the handle starting in the 1954-1955 school year.
A white, royal blue, and navy blue braid wound around the ax handle symbolized the colors of both schools.
After the “Axe Pact” ended in 1963 due to rising tensions between the two schools, both institutions received half the original ax to display it on their campuses. “The original ax was divided into two,” Ken Beazer, executive director of athletics at Utah Tech, said. “One ax has the original head and the other ax has the original handle.”
With both schools sporting new names in the 2022-2023 athletic season, Southern Utah University in Cedar City joined the Western Athletic Conference, placing them in the same conference as Utah Tech University in St. George. The historic rivalry was reignited, and with the help of Vandy Creations, both schools created a new ax that shows both universities’ new names and colors with the spirit of the old rivalry.
Both schools came to the decision that the Battle of the Ax would only take place between football games, and not all athletic events. In the 2022-2023 football season, SUU won the first round and took the ax home, only for Utah Tech to win it back at their homecoming a few months later.