KESSLER: Last man standing

Today is the first anniversary of the longest dodgeball match in history. Well, the first anniversary of the end of the longest dodgeball match in history. The event itself, played in Albany, N.Y., took longer than a day — 31 hours, 11 minutes and 13 seconds, to be exact.

I learned this on Wikipedia about five minutes after I decided to subject myself to intramural dodgeball and about two minutes after I realized I had no idea what dodgeball entailed. I hadn’t even seen that Vince Vaughn movie.

I had participated in Stiles IMs before. Twice. I played in a soccer game during the first weeks of freshman year. I went because I’d learned about intramurals on every Yale tour, during every Yale info session and in every glossy Yale handout I’d ever perused. I went because some of my suitemates were going, and in those days we were joined at the hip. But mostly I went because I was still on the upswing of my Yale-gear-hoarding phase and desperately wanted a Stiles IM T-shirt.

I was told that all skill levels are welcome at IMs. But when I got out to the field, I realized that my fellow Moose were actually good at soccer. Some had played varsity in high school. All seemed to be able, at the very least, to control the ball when they tried — something which, I quickly learned, was more than I could do. I ran up and down the field, staying as far away from the ball as possible. I cheered from the sidelines. I assured everyone that no, I really didn’t want to re-enter the game.

I didn’t re-emerge on the IM circuit until I found a sport in which I thought I had at least a modicum of skill. I was a competitive swimmer when I was younger, so midway through the winter, I grabbed my one-piece and headed for the pool. I eagerly signed up for several races, ready to prove that the athletic prowess I lacked on land was more than made up for in the water. But when I dove in for my first event, I realized that my competitive swimming days were long gone: I had quit at age 11. I could still slog through a handful of passable races but by the end of the evening could barely pull my exhausted limbs out of the chlorine. The next morning, walking to class was a slow, painful process.

I couldn’t find that IM shirt from freshman year when I dressed for my inaugural dodgeball game. I arrived at Payne Whitney wearing a “Moose Crossing” shirt, which I’d opted for over the “Saarinen Protractors” one for its less esoteric joke and brighter yellow hue — the better to make my body a target instead of my head.

Stiles won a quick victory. The TD team forfeited because it only had one girl. I’d like to say my femininity proved useful in Stiles’ success, but we had five girls. All present decided to scrimmage anyway.

I went with the strategy I’d learned when we thought we’d be playing a real game: hide. Don’t throw. Stand in the corner and hope no one aims at you. I was the last one left on my side during the first game. I sat on the sidelines during my second and third, got hit in the foot during the fourth, made an attempt to throw in the fifth (bad idea: my ball was caught) and was pelted on the left hand in the sixth.

During the seventh and final game, I again ended up as the last man standing for my team. I realized my strategy could no longer work. I needed to throw some balls and get the opposing side out or catch some and get some of my teammates back in. Dodging wouldn’t be enough.

Stilesians were encouraging me from the sidelines, telling me to throw, to catch, to do anything. I thought back to the bad scores I got for “ball-handling skills” in lower school PE class (wording I still find much too amusing for my level of maturity). “If it’s on your bucket list … ” someone yelled. I tried to throw, but the squishy multicolored objects stubbornly refused to go where I directed them.

And then, all at once, my opponents ran forward and aimed at me. I went to catch, but over a decade later my ball-handling skills were apparently still subpar. The ball went straight through my arms.

Game over.

Zara Kessler is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at