Chaos broke out on Old Campus at 4:34 p.m. Saturday when the famed Bladderball burst through the doors of Dwight Hall Chapel.
Bladderball — a Yale tradition banned in 1982 in which students vie to tug a coveted rubber ball to their residential college’s courtyard — resurfaced Saturday for the second time since the ban. After a day of rampant speculation, the six-foot, multicolored elastic ball emerged at 4:34 p.m. and sparked pandemonium among nearly 300 people. Though the ball popped just two minutes after it was deployed, its deflated remains moved sporadically up Elm Street until police abruptly ended the game and confiscated the largest piece 11 minutes after the spectacle began.
Police were stationed heavily on Old Campus and in surrounding areas, and officers said they were there “to keep everyone safe.” Despite the efforts of police and administrators who cautioned that the game might break out, at least one student was injured as Yalies mobbed the ball near the intersection of York and Elm Streets.
Speculation and excitement surrounding the reappearance of the game, which has traditionally taken place on the weekend of the Yale-Dartmouth football game, began yesterday when Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry sent out an email to college masters, deans and freshman counselors condemning the activity. A few select students also received an email from a mysterious character known only as “Pied Piper” which said simply: “Bladderball is coming.”
Yalies who heard the rumors gathered on Old Campus about 15 minutes before the traditional start time of 4 p.m. As the rumored time came and went, students speculated as to whether and where the ball would appear. Although both plainclothes and uniformed officers were stationed on the quad to prevent the game from taking place, a handful of masked individuals unleashed the ball out of Dwight Hall Chapel — across from Phelps Gate — and then slammed the door behind them.
Despite its build-up, the game was short-lived. But hundreds of students managed to drag the ball through the High Street gate to the intersection of Elm and High Streets, where it popped on a tree at 4:36 p.m. Screams of “Bladderball is here” and “bring it to Saybrook” carried over police sirens and car horns along High Street.
Hundreds of Yalies had tugged the deflated rubber ball up Elm Street and stampeded across the intersection of York and Elm Streets — blocking traffic for approximately five minutes — when a plainclothes officer grabbed the largest ball shred at 4:45 p.m., shouting “if you don’t let go right now, I will arrest you.” Another officer pulled one male student away from the scene amidst screams from the crowd. The plainclothes officer then stuffed the ball’s largest remaining shred into the back of a third police officer’s motorcycle, and the motorcycle sped off along Broadway.
As the officer riding the motorcycle drove down Broadway, Stilesians loudly proclaimed victory.
“He’s going toward Stiles!” students cheered as the motorcycle departed.
Several students reported one girl being trampled by the crowd 10 yards from the intersection of Elm and York Streets. Students said the girl was pulled from the mob and had blood on her shoulder.
Police ended the game promptly, and five students interviewed said officers handled the crowd appropriately and were not overly aggressive.
“The cops did a good job at doing their job,” Jared Phillips ’14 said. “For the most part, students weren’t blocking the street for too long.”
The Bladderball tradition began in 1954 and was banned by A. Bartlett Giamatti and Howard Lamar, then University president and Yale College dean, respectively. The game reappeared in 2009, but did not take place last year.
Although the 2009 game drew complaints from New Haven residents for obstructing traffic, bystanders this year appeared more receptive.
A bride and groom standing outside of the Branford College master’s house on High Street looked on at the crazed mob of students. The couple, Raffaele and Lisa Viscuso, said they had married earlier in the day and were taking their wedding portraits at Yale. As the crowd of passed by, students broke out in applause for the stunned couple.
“I had no idea what was going on, but it was great,” the bride said.
The term “bladderball” traces back to a rugby-like game that Yale students played on the New Haven Green in the early 19th century.
Tapley Stephenson contributed reporting.