Bladderball returns

Since early September, Yale was abuzz with rumors of the return of bladderball — the notorious campus sport that was banned in 1982.

Last Wednesday night, under the cover of darkness, representatives from a handful of residential colleges secretly convened in the center of Old Campus. Brought together by a mysterious e-mail, sent from an anonymous Gmail account, they hoped to learn the truth behind these rumors. Once members of various colleges had gathered, one student pulled out a notebook and began reading off details about the game.

About 1,000 people massed on central campus Saturday afternoon to play bladderball, despite a 27-year-old ban and administrators' skepticism.
Daniel Carvalho
About 1,000 people massed on central campus Saturday afternoon to play bladderball, despite a 27-year-old ban and administrators' skepticism.
No caption.
No caption.
No caption.
Daniel Carvalho
No caption.
Daniel Carvalho

The game would begin at 4 p.m. on Old Campus, he said. The new bladderball, six feet in diameter, had been given as a gift from an alumnus to an unnamed campus organization. Though the gathered students asked the messenger questions, he seemed to know nothing more. Then the students went their separate ways, according to two students who were there.

On Thursday, the time and place began to trickle out to the Yale community. An e-mail sent to Davenport students about the game told Gnomes to be on Old Campus at 4 p.m. Fliers on tables in Saybrook also told students of the imminent game. On Friday, posters appeared in Stiles’ bathroom stalls.

But many were skeptical: Would the game actually happen? Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she thought the game was a “hoax” and University President Richard Levin said attempts to reestablish bladderball had failed before.


So even as a thousand people descended on Old Campus Saturday afternoon — students with painted faces and residential college t-shirts, bewildered or amused parents visiting for the weekend — no one was certain whether a ball would actually emerge.

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 not one big joke.

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.

Never making it into Old Campus, the ball bounced on a sea of outstretched arms out to College Street where students continued to move it towards Cross Campus. Soon the game had blocked traffic on Elm Street, bloodied a few noses and brought out the police for about 40 minutes until the bladderball deflated.

A 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.

And as students chased the ball, bouncing over cars, through 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 go shopping.


And 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.

Indeed, though students said the game was exhilarating, some left the with battle wounds.

Ricky Johnson ’12, who was wearing sandals, said he broke his pinky toe when someone stepped on his foot during the game. He added that he would surely play again — but with more durable footwear.

Max Budovitch ’13, who emerged with blood on his face, said he was “smacked” right after the game began. Alice Walton ’10 said her feet were trampled multiple times, but she enjoyed the game.

“It’s a break from taking ourselves too seriously,” she said.

Still, some students said the game sometimes got out of hand.

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.”

Groups of parents stood on the sidewalk along College Street, some confused and disapproving, others with video cameras in hand.

One parent, Laurie Lieberman, said she thought the event seemed dangerous. But others, like Cliff Levine and Katrin Czinger, both with children in Timothy Dwight College, joined the mass of students chasing the ball.

“TD will ultimately win it,” Levine declared.


Just minutes after the police halted traffic, students tore the covering off the ball. It wasn’t long before the ball was popped and eventually ripped into shreds. But even after the ball had collapsed, some students continued fighting over the scraps, hoping to glean trophies for their respective colleges.

“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.”

Although it was unclear which college “won,” most claimed victory in e-mails shortly after the event. Davenport, for one, said it posted 27,000 points.

Soon, the contest moved elsewhere on the Internet. 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.”

Stilesians managed to bring back the largest pieces of the ball which they brought to Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti’s house, where parents had gathered for a Family Weekend reception. Sweaty students displayed the ball’s carcass on the banister.

Pitti said he hadn’t seen the article in the News on Friday and had not heard “any rumblings” of the bladderball game.

“Essentially, I was surprised and amazed,” he said. “I was really thrilled they were so happy.” Later that evening, Pitti sent an e-mail to the Stiles community offering “con-blad-ulations,” and to ignore rival claims of victory.

Still, two blue pieces of the ball hung above the entry to the Pierson dining hall servery Saturday night — a call to arms for future generations of Yalies.


  • Mike

    It’s about time!

    In our day, Bladderball commenced on the morning of the Dartmouth game. Accordingly, the beverages of choice were screwdrivers and Bloody Marys. Our freshman year, the freshman counselors obliged us by setting up serving stations outside the various Old Campus entryways. Conseumption was effectively mandatory.

    Yes, everything you have heard about the origin of JE Sucks is true. They stupidly attempted to snag the Ball with some sort of meathook and deflated it.

    Why you tore the Ball to shreds this year is beyond me. The first rule of Bladderball is: don’t deflate the Ball. (The second rule is: there are no rules.)

  • clam it pan

    Josh Pan ’12 said he thought the game was fun until he saw an elderly man being shoved against a car.

  • yale05wfp

    We academics are so disciplined that outlets like this are rather important diversions. I want to say that this seems a good tradition and ought to happen more often, also as a way too of gaining a stronger sense of community on this campus of strong individuals. Seems the fun was spoiled and chances of the b.ball return jeopardized b/c of the unruly actions of some, and due to the destruction of the ball. Keep it w/in reason i would say. Generally a great idea.

  • Kevin

    Another example of certain privileged college students having too much time on their hands while the rest of us are studying or working to pay tuition.

  • fun, but…

    one of my friends got a concussion and didn’t report it…

  • working hard or hardly working?

    Kevin must be taking columbus day off…

  • @Kevin

    yes. we have too much time on our hands. none of us study and none of us have to work to help pay for tuition. classes don’t even actually exist.

    um, and pigs fly.

  • RB

    Trumbull won, as usual, the larger colleges just won’t admit it

  • @Kevin

    Clearly you don’t understand the concept of having fun once in a while.

    Along with taking 5 classes and doing extacurricular activities, I work 10-15 hours a week on campus to pay for tuition and support myself, as do a LOT of other students on Yale’s campus. Yet we played bladderball. Hmm I guess we’re just over-privileged brats after all.

  • Yale80

    Mike’s (#1 above) comments ring true for me since we were there in more or less the same era. I was a freshman the year after JE began to suck. However, while we still had the bloody marys and screwdrivers (remember, the drinking age was 18), Yale did impose rules in the 1978 or 1979 version of Bladderball. The colleges were organized into 4 teams of 3 colleges each (e.g. Berkeley, Morse and Stiles were one team, with red T-shirts having the same printed backs but different fronts), and the goal was to get the ball into that team’s respective corner of the Old Campus. It was strictly verbotten for the ball to leave the old campus, and all the gates were locked (to get in or out one had to go through Yale Station). The ressult of this “4 corner” game was an inward-pushing scrum that was very dense and scary at the center.

  • mon frare tony

    Cool.Why do they call it “bladderball”?

    Maybe rabbit punch. kidney clobber.cranium crunch. i guess bladderball is proper,if your going to chug cheap keg beer and be prevented from using the lou

  • Uh

    I thought it was called bladderball because it was made out of a whale bladder in the old days.

  • SY 82 alum

    The elementary schools in Japan every year hold a “Sports Day Festival” usually around October to mark the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. They have relay races, dancing, gymnastics, tug-of-war and a large Ball race, similar in size to Bladderball but a lot safer and fun.

    All the students, 1st-grade to 6th grade participate, (and in one video from youtube I found below, even the parents join in). Each grade level divides half of their students evenly to participate in either the White team or Red team. So there are two teams.
    For the “Big Ball Race” game, in the main playground field, they form a large circle. One half is the Red team; the other side is the White team. The 1st graders are at the beginning of the half circle on each team, followed by the 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and up to the 6th grade at the end of the half-circle.

    The 1st through 3rd grade, because they are small, when they get the ball, they get to “roll it” on the ground between themselves in the line they form. The 3rd to 6th grade, have to pull the ball up and “pass it over their heads” to the end of the line. When the ball reaches the end, a few “spotters” have to roll the ball to the center of the field to sit in on a small platform which is the “goal.” This is done two times, to let each team at least try to win once.

    It’s pretty safe. Everyone stays in their place, no running, no crushing, no chasing the ball with mass bodies, (except for when the ball goes off track and they need to bring in back within the line of play, easily marked off with orange cones). Here are YouTube videos to show you what it looks like.

    the ball race:
    one with parents participating :

    Other performances:
    an opening ceremony
    and gymnastics, such as a human pyramid
    A suggestion: Create two teams from the 12 Residential Colleges, (and even the grad schools), and have them line up and basically each race a bladderball in two semi-circles inside Old Campus, to see which team can do it the fastest. It can be done as “best 2 out 3 wins.” (I can imagine tunes of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Chariots of Fire’ blasting from speakers outside the Penthouse in Durfee along with hand painted signs of ‘JE Sux’ – grin). Keeping BladderBall within the Old Campus will limit any injury or damage to life or limb. It could be a great “fund raiser” by allowing parents and Alumni to join in and get a T-Shirt that states “I survived BladderBall 20xx”.

    SY’82 alum in Japan