You’re walking back to your dorm room from a frat party around midnight on Thursday night. You’re covered in beer, your ears are ringing and, not having been able to keep up a conversation with anyone, you’re alone. What a way to start the weekend.
As you walk across Old Campus, you notice what looks like some kind of gathering. Your night is looking up. But it’s not the spillover from a room party — it’s a capture-the-flag game in full force, with people running around all over the place, having the time of their lives. You have just stumbled across the Society of Midnight Athletes, just one of the many alternative social clubs in which Yalies participate.
Whether bored with the normal party scene, looking for a more structured study break, or just wanting an official way to gather friends together, students are creating social clubs, whose activities range from field games to drinking tea, that create a party atmosphere without all the hassle of an actual party.
Gabe Smedresman ’06 had one such night during the spring of last year. Bored, he and his friends heard that there was a capture-the-flag game on Old Campus. Since that fateful night, Smedresman has become a SOMA regular.
“The party scene here gets a little repetitive. All things being told, I’d rather be out on Old Campus playing a game and running around than sitting in a room that’s hot and crowded,” Smedresman said. “You don’t normally get to play field games after middle school unless you’re a camp counselor.”
SOMA was born in the fall of last year when co-President Max Engel ’06 — who is, in fact, a camp counselor during the summer — decided to get a few friends together to try playing bocce at night. Since then, the SOMA mailing list has grown to 98 people, with approximately 20 showing up on any given night. Engel stressed that people only attend SOMA to play, not to drink. SOMA does not provide any kind of libations, except maybe water to rehydrate between games.
“People have taken a liking to doing something wacky with their nights,” Engel said. “It’s a very honest type of fun.”
Over the past year, the midnight athletes have played bocce, capture-the-flag, steal-the-bacon and ultimate frisbee, all with zero complaints from Old Campus residents or campus security. Currently in the process of applying for official club status, Engel said SOMA would use any Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee monies to buy glow-in-the-dark frisbees and bocce sets, as well as jerseys for capture-the-flag and possibly equipment for laser tag.
Although Engel said SOMA began as a “pet project” involving primarily his friends, he said it has grown into a more coherent organization, with club membership bolstered by curious passers-by who join in the games.
As much as SOMA is about nighttime activity, Leisure League is about daytime, well, leisure. The co-presidents of the League, who insisted on going by the aliases Clementine and Reginald to protect their otherwise unleisurely identities, said they came up with the idea for the club while lounging on a beach during last spring break. Inspired by a club Reginald’s mother had been a member of while she was in college, the pair decided to form a club dedicated to their interests, which they felt were otherwise underrepresented on the Yale campus.
“Leisure League is a club dedicated to the cause of taking a break, which we feel is just as important as, say, ‘civil liberties,’” Clementine said. “It’s a hip event to invite a hookup potential to, and a warmup to a great Friday night out.”
The League is also in the process of applying for official club status, Reginald said. They want UOFC funding to pay for club tee-shirts and possibly a heated tent to enable year-round leisure, even in the snow.
Leisure League meets at an undisclosed outdoor location on the Yale campus on Friday afternoons. Members participate in such leisurely activities as throwing cards in a hat and rolling dice. The League tried playing croquet once, but deemed it “too active” and decided to play it only annually, during a special midnight game that calls to mind SOMA’s activities. Though Leisure League is much smaller and more discreet, the two clubs have many overlapping members.
“If there is a yin-yang, then we are the other side of the yin-yang to Leisure League,” Engel, also a Leisure League officer, said.
Though usually welcoming to invitees, Leisure League participation is by invitation only. At first, Clementine and Reginald only invited people they wanted to get to know better. Soon, they said, all their best friends started showing up, too, but it was still a diverse group of people from different social circles. They still, Clementine emphasized, invite people they want to hook up with.
“Sometimes we attract random passers-by and they become our friends,” Clementine said, “or our enemies, like that freak who showed up last week.”
While SOMA and Leisure League may be two sides of the yin-yang, the Yale Tea Club’s Eastern symbol would just be tea. The name does not lie.
“We serve tea, and people drink it,” co-president Gordon Jenkins ’07 said. “We’re the most ridiculous club at Yale. People come because you don’t do anything. We have comfortable chairs. You sit and drink tea.”
Co-Presidents Jenkins and David Chernicoff ’07 brought the idea for a tea club to Yale from their high school in Berkeley, CA, where they were members of a similar organization led by one of their friends. Upon graduation, all members of the Berkeley High Tea Club pledged to continue the tradition at their respective schools. The Yale Tea Club is the only one remaining.
In its third semester of operation, the Yale Tea Club is an actual registered undergraduate organization, with approximately 300 people on its mailing list. At its meetings, which take place once every two to three weeks, members can choose from forty types of bag teas or the specially brewed loose-leaf tea offering of the meeting.
The Tea Club also began as a small gathering of friends before growing to its current size. Jenkins said a “circle of friends” has formed around the Tea Club, including people who walk by and decide to stay after being offered a free cup of tea.
“It feels somewhat similar to a party,” Jenkins said. “It’s like a party in the daytime, with a different beverage.”
Tea Club member Claire Graves ’07 said she joined the club originally because she was friends with Jenkins and likes tea. A member from the club’s beginning, Graves has been to every Tea Club meeting but one. She said that while she mostly sees the same people at the Friday afternoon meetings as on the party circuit later that night, she enjoys actually being able to talk to them instead of just drinking and dancing.
Echoing Engel’s description of SOMA, Graves explained Tea Club’s attraction.
“It’s kind of wacky and crazy,” Graves said. “It’s just a completely different way to hang out with people.”