BLADDERBALL IS BACK

No caption.
No caption. Photo by Marcus Schwarz.

As a thousand people descended on Old Campus — students with painted faces and residential college T-shirts, bewildered or amused parents visiting for the weekend — no one was certain whether it would actually happen.

Students chanted their college cheers and stretched their quads, waiting for the appointed hour, 4 p.m., to see if all those mysterious e-mails and fliers heralding the return of bladderball were just one big hoax.

Students rescue the bladderball from the underground entrance to Bass Library.
Students rescue the bladderball from the underground entrance to Bass Library.
Bladderball players carry the ball between Calhoun and Berkeley colleges.
Bladderball players carry the ball between Calhoun and Berkeley colleges.
A reveler watches the chaos while hanging off the Noah Porter Gate on Elm Street.
A reveler watches the chaos while hanging off the Noah Porter Gate on Elm Street.
Students toss the bladderball up and down in the midst of traffic on Elm Street.
Students toss the bladderball up and down in the midst of traffic on Elm Street.
Whether you were under the ball or watched from a distance, tell us what you saw Saturday afternoon.
Whether you were under the ball or watched from a distance, tell us what you saw Saturday afternoon.
Stilesians and Piersonites tug on a shred of the bladderball.
Stilesians and Piersonites tug on a shred of the bladderball.
Police push bystanders to the sidewalk and wave through traffic.
Police push bystanders to the sidewalk and wave through traffic.
A Stilesian steals her share of the bladderball.
A Stilesian steals her share of the bladderball.
Timothy Dwight students fight for ripped pieces of the bladderball.
Timothy Dwight students fight for ripped pieces of the bladderball.

But right on time, a multi-colored six-foot ball bobbed through Phelps Gate. There was no mistaking: ban or no ban, Bladderball was back.

The game, which meandered from Old Campus to Cross Campus, soon blocked traffic on Elm Street, bloodied a few noses and brought out the police for about 40 minutes until the bladderball deflated. Afterward, some students continued fighting over the scraps.

“This is the most amazing event ever,” Freddy Ketchum ’13 said from atop the Women’s Table as throngs of students tugged at the remnants of the ball below. “I have never been a part of something so glorious in my life.”

Though some students expressed concerns about safety, many said they were enthusiastic about the return of the tradition, which was officially banned 27 years ago.

As the blue, green, red and yellow ball bounced on the sea of outstretched arms in the middle of Elm Street, confused motorists honked their horns or, like New Haven resident Corrie Poland, took pictures on their cell phones.

“It’s not every day you run into the middle of a riot,” said Poland, who was on her way to a shopping errand.

One family in search of a parking space found one — in the middle of Elm Street. Metro Taxi 147, which was also detained, left the meter running, much to chagrin of the passengers in the back seat.

A Yale parent, Laurie Lieberman, said she thought the event seemed dangerous. But other parents, like Cliff Levine and Katrin Czinger, both with students in Timothy Dwight, joined in the game, following the ball along with the mass of students involved.

“TD will ultimately win it,” Levine declared.

At 4:24 p.m., three police motorcycles and two officers blocked off Elm Street from York Street to College Street, pushing students and parents off the road.

“Get out of the street,” they shouted.

Minutes later, students tore the covering off the ball, punctured it and eventually ripped it into shreds. Even though the ball was deflated, students continued to tug at it on Cross Campus, hoping to bring back a scrap to their respective residential colleges.

Although it was unclear which college “won,” most claimed victory in e-mails shortly after the event. Davenport, for one, said it posted 2,700 points.

After the game, the Wikipedia entry for “bladderball” was edited more than 160 times. The name of the winning college changed constantly until one editor locked the page at 5:51 p.m. because of “excessive vandalism.”

Although many students interviewed said they were excited to have the tradition back, some left the game with physical injuries.

“It’s as scary as I expected it to be,” Andie Levien ’12 said. “I was in the middle of a crowd for a second, and I got hit in the face many times.”

Max Budovitch ’13, who had blood on his face, said he was “smacked” right after the game began. Josh Pan ’12 said he thought the game was fun until he saw an elderly man being shoved against a car.

“Usually everybody’s so under control,” Jack Li ’12 said after exiting a crowd of students fighting for a part of the ball. “But on this occasion, everyone just shows their wild side.”

Berkeley College Dean Kevin Hicks would not let the warring students into his college.

“There was a little bit of danger involved of 300 people trying to mash themselves though the gate,” Hicks said.

The largest piece of the ball, a big carcass of blue tarp, ended up in the Ezra Stiles’ master’s house, where parents had gathered for a Family Weekend reception. Sweaty students displayed it on the banister. Two blue pieces of the ball hung above the entry to the Pierson dining hall servery Saturday night.

Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who is in charge of campus security, could not immediately be reached for comment.

E-mail Cross Campus with photos, videos and written accounts of your bladderball experience or post them in the comments here.

Comments

  • Jon K. BK ‘ 78

    (If I remember correctly …)

    During one of the mid-1970s Bladderball days, students tried to add a shred of the destroyed Bladderball to the reserved reading materials at Cross Campus Library.

    Jon K. BK ‘ 78

  • Forever Yale

    Today truly is a day of days

  • Sarah Shapiro

    I’m delighted to see the return of one of the most nonsensical Yale traditions.
    I’m not so pleased to see the game taken across Elm Street – that is not fun or funny.

  • MOOSE

    Stiles has the largest portion = STILES WINS!

    JE destroys the Bladderball = JE SUCKS!

  • BK alum

    I’m glad to see that Bladderball is back. But next time, keep it on Old Campus. Extending it onto Elm Street and blocking traffic just necessitated the police’s involvement and this is not good. Respect New Haven residents who don’t care a bit about the game. If not, there will be another 27 years before the next time.

  • Critical Thinker

    If you are skeptical, you can actually confirm equations posted by MOOSE with some basic calc.

  • Such classiness

    Definitely a classic Yale tradition, especially with JE again failing miserably at keeping the ball inflated. With that said, TD might want to work on not looking like a bunch of savages, despite the honesty of such an appearance.

  • boolafreakinboola SM ’77

    I am THRILLED to see that Bladderball has come back. The parents who are afraid it might be dangerous need to get over it. It isn’t for them.

  • yalemom

    I was there! Glad to be part of Yale history. Good natured fun…mostly. A little rough at the end but that’s how it is in competitive sports. Require mouthguards, helmets, and protection for any other body parts at risk. Congratulations Stiles!

  • Y11

    I’m glad it was rough. Yale needs to toughen up a little, even if it’s just for 40 minutes, once a year. If you can’t hang, don’t play.

  • FifthFloorMafia

    Stiles may have had the biggest intact piece, but without a doubt Pierson grabbed more.

    I’m disappointed they didn’t leave the scrap up over the servery entrance for the parents to see this morning.

  • psnqs

    love to see yalies let off steam in silly, spirited and unstructed ways like this. hooray!

  • leaping parent

    I, a parent, touched the bladderball. Just had to. Daughter was proud!

  • Recent Alum

    Good to see that there are still SOME traditions that the current crop of Yalies still care about.

  • PC 12

    Congrats to Pierson on the win

  • Proud Alumna

    I first experienced Bladderball my freshman year in 1973. I loved it, and was sad when it was banned some years after I graduated. I’m glad today’s students were able to experience it. I’m told that it was almost inside the Saybrook gate until it was cruelly stolen away.

  • Elm City

    Thanks to the two Yale students who climbed across my hood, damaged my car AND gave me the finger. What a classy representation of this university and it’s students. I’ll remember that next time you come to a city meeting and whine about traffic safety around campus. I’ll lean on that “NO” vote lever till it breaks…..

  • unimpressed

    Does someone else need to die of a head injury or be killed by an automobile for people to realize that fun needs to be balanced with some measure of responsibility? I was caught twice in the middle of this mayhem. It was mob behavior, pure and simple. I’m glad it was fun, but mostly I’m glad we were all lucky. This time.

  • abroad ’11

    Glad to hear the tradition is back; sucks to be abroad when it happened though

  • Yalie

    Dear number 17,
    Your experience was undoubtedly unfortunate and will be brought to the attention of the proper figures at Yale. However, I must protest your newfound commitment to fillibustering all future traffic safety initiatives. Please reconsider and let us all work to make a better community!

  • B-Ball Champions – PC ’77

    It’s fantastic to see the return of a great tradition. And glad to read, as Moose (#4) states, that JE still sucks. We were witnesses to their foul play.

  • neoplop

    Ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as football.

  • Yale 08

    Bright college years with bladderball rife!

  • Moose ’69

    Ouch…even the memory hurts!