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.
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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.
THE GAME BEGINS
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.