Pick-up sports don’t end after fourth grade

My elementary school had a yard behind it — a field of cement squeezed into the city between high-rise apartment buildings. It was confined to half a block, the space on the block not occupied by the school. But it was huge, because we were four feet tall. Growing up in the middle of a city, that’s all the space the school had to let us play. And play we did. Our lunch recess was filled with dodgeball, kickball, Vortex football, basketball, wiffleball and tag, every day for six years.

Technically these were pick-up games. But each day we picked up where we left off. We played the same sport with the same people every day. If your team lost one day, you could win the next. But you had to play. We played month after month, usually switching sports only at the beginning of the school year. Third grade was kickball, fourth grade was football, fifth grade was dodgeball. Though each day was a pick-up game, these were highly organized events, scheduled for the same time each day and with the same cast of characters.

Although I haven’t played dodgeball on a daily basis since I was 10, organized pick-up games didn’t end for me on the cement fields of New York City.

Last year I started getting e-mails like this: “Time again for a unification of the Durfeesians … MORSE CAPTURE THE FLAG! WEDNESDAY 10:30 PM. DURFEE BENCH.”

The e-mails went out and a week later we would play the games: Capture the Flag out on Old Campus, under cover of darkness, before the weather turned cold, and again when spring returned. Two members of my class had the idea to play Capture the Flag (CTF as it soon became known) early in the year, and organized four or five games before May. Forty of us would gather in front of Durfee and divide into teams. We usually played three games, lasting an hour or and hour and a half, until we were sufficiently tired and dirty. We had a blast, and were always proud of ourselves for creating so much fun.

When we heard about Stiles Capture the Flag this September, we were understandably pissed. Here was our bastard sister stealing our idea to have fun. Instead of gathering in front of Durfee, they gathered in front of Lawrance. But the rest was the same. They had stolen everything. They used our rules and they used our field. How dare they pretend Old Campus exists for their games? The weasels had stripped us of one of our proudest accomplishments and were parading around like they were as awesome as us.

In my anger I did some research and discovered we Morsels should swallow our pride. Stiles Capture the Flag is an annual event that the Ezra Stiles Student Activities Committee runs to introduce freshmen to the college and upperclassmen. Of course, they’re not as cool as us because they play only once a year. We’ve already played once this year and we’ll surely play more before summer comes. But all around me, I learned, other colleges and groups were doing the same. Organized pick-up sports are played all over Yale, on different fields and by different groups.

Many of the colleges organize events like these, with varying frequency and intensity. Saybrook freshmen fueled dodgeball games in the L-Dub courtyard last year. Davenport is having a “Class War” this Saturday during their Oktoberfest celebration. TD ran Friday night games of Knockout, the basketball drill game, last year. And Silliman runs its own Freshman Olympics each fall, pitting freshmen against each other in a number of “sports,” forcing the newbies to demonstrate their skill in such athletic pursuits as obstacle courses and scavenger hunts.

Groups and clubs on campus organize similar events. When last year’s Freshman Class Council arranged an internal game of basketball in the gym, they were challenged by a rogue team and destroyed. And this year’s Yale College Council, not satisfied with organizing fun for all Yalies, is hoping to organize fun for themselves by challenging the FCC to a game of basketball later in the year.

Organization can even come from individual students with no previous affiliation. Last year a Facebook group titled “The Biggest Old Campus Snowfight in History” prepared the class of 2010 for a massive snowball fight the first time it snowed in New Haven. One night in late February, snow began falling and kept falling until, at about 2:00 a.m., there was enough snow sticking to the ground to begin the games. Yalies poured out of Old Campus dorms and stormed the field, now a battleground. For two hours snow flew and people shouted.

It would be hard to call such mayhem organized, but then again, it was planned months in advance. And, invisibly linked to concrete schoolyards and playing fields of childhoods past, the game was years in the making.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College.

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