As residential colleges and student groups fought to capture the coveted Bladderball Saturday, police officers took the prize in the end.
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 emergence of the six-foot, multicolored ball 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 Yale police abruptly ended the game and confiscated the largest piece 11 minutes after the spectacle began.
Despite efforts by police and administrators to suppress the game for students’ safety, the game still went on and at least one student was injured as Yalies mobbed the ball near the intersection of York and Elm Streets. After the game ended, police threatened to arrest one student for trying to incite a riot, but eventually released him without charges.
Speculation and excitement surrounding the reappearance of Bladderball, which has traditionally taken place on the weekend of the Yale-Dartmouth football game, began Friday when Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry sent an email to college masters, deans and freshman counselors condemning the activity. Select students also received an email from a mysterious character known as the “Pied Piper” that 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 highly anticipated time came and went, students speculated as to whether and where the ball would appear. Though many Yalies said they would be frustrated if the event did not take place after its buildup, others enjoyed the tense atmosphere.
“I don’t actually care if there’s a Bladderball,” David Cruz ’14 said. “I just want to rumble.”
As more students filled the quad, both plainclothes and uniformed Yale Police Department officers kept their eyes open for suspicious activity, though they refused to explain their increased presence on Old Campus before the event began. One officer, dressed in a generic tan T-shirt and cargo pants, declined to say if he was an undercover cop, but did say he was there to “keep everyone safe.”
As 4:30 p.m. passed, many students expressed doubts that the game would occur, speculating that the police presence would prevent the ball’s release.
But then a handful of masked individuals opened the main doors to Dwight Hall Chapel — directly across from Phelps Gate — and unleashed the Bladderball before slamming the chapel doors closed.
Hundreds of Yalies converged on the ball and started dragging it through High Street Gate. Students began to run as the ball traveled along High Street and toward Elm Street.
A bride and groom taking their wedding portraits outside of the Branford College master’s house on High Street watched the mob of students. As the crowd passed, Yalies cheered for the stunned couple, Raffaele and Lisa Viscuso, who had been married earlier Saturday.
“I had no idea what was going on, but it was great,” Lisa Viscuso said.
The game hit a snag as the Bladderball reached Elm Street when a tree alongside the road punctured the ball. Students were unfazed and began a “tug-of-war” to gain control of the ball’s remains. Screams of “bring it to Saybrook” carried over police sirens and car horns along High Street, as officers tried to prevent the game from obstructing traffic.
Despite their efforts, students tugged the deflated rubber ball up Elm Street and stampeded across the intersection of York and Elm Streets — blocking traffic for approximately five minutes — before 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 amid 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 down Broadway.
“He’s going toward Stiles!” students from Ezra Stiles College cheered as the motorcycle departed.
The latest outbreak of Bladderball was short-lived despite its buildup, lasting 11 minutes from when the ball was released to when police confiscated its remnants.
Though students dispersed quickly after police ended the game, the YPD were not the only ones to capture a piece of the Bladderball.
Saybrook’s Dalton Johnson ’14 said he ripped a small piece of the Bladderball away when it popped outside of Branford. He and his suitemates may frame the fragment and give it to Saybrook, Johnson added.
“Some people saw that I had taken a piece of the Bladderball and they tried to take it from me,” Johnson said. “I ran away from the crowd and hid the piece I took in my pocket.”
Several students reported that one girl was 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.
Although the cops threatened to arrest students who continued to grab for pieces of the ball, five students interviewed said officers handled the crowd appropriately.
“The cops did a good job at doing their job,” Jarred 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 then-University President A. Bartlett Giamatti and Yale College Dean Howard Lamar 28 years later. The game reappeared for the first time in 2009.