It popped in less than a minute.
Making its first appearance since 2011, the traditional Yale game of bladderball ended as quickly as it began. On Sunday, the ball emerged from entryway A of Farnam Hall at 4:08 p.m., pushed out of the doorway by two unidentified students. It rolled approximately 200 feet past Battell Chapel and Durfee Hall, bouncing into the air once before a Yale Police officer popped it. Yale Police, who were positioned on Old Campus before the ball appeared, ended the game due to safety concerns, they said.
The game has been banned at Yale since 1982, when the then-President A. Bartlett Giamatti decided to discontinue the tradition after multiple students were injured that year. In the game, students compete for possession of a six-foot inflatable ball, and bringing it into the courtyard of their residential college or to the headquarters of their campus organization. The name “bladderball” originates from a combination of soccer and rugby that Yale students played on the New Haven Green in the first half of the 19th century. The game was originally played with an inflated animal bladder.
Hints that the game was returning to campus began on Friday night with the appearance of flyers around Branford and Jonathan Edwards Colleges.
An email sent to an unknown number of students on Nov. 1 insinuated that the event would take place outside Phelps Gate at 4 p.m. that day. Due to rain, the event was postponed for the same time and location the following day in another email. Both emails were sent from the address firstname.lastname@example.org, a reference to the attempt in 1975 by Jonathan Edwards College to capture the ball with a meat hook, prematurely popping the ball and ending the game. The name attached to the email address was “Vescica Sphaera,” which means “bladder ball” in Latin.
Of the 45 students interviewed on Sunday between 3 and 4 p.m., 20 said they had heard the event would be happening at 4 p.m. from sources like the Facebook group “Overheard at Yale” and the social media app Yik Yak. A senior who asked to remain anonymous added that she had heard about the game in person from a member of YSECS, as well as in emails from the Pundits and others in the know.
Two Yale police officers began to circle Old Campus on bicycles at 3 p.m. One of the officers, when asked if anything was happening on Old Campus to warrant a police presence, responded that they were wondering the same thing.
A third Yale police officer stationed at the Elm Street gate at 3:45 p.m. said she had no knowledge of such an event and was just covering her normal police beat.
But by 4 p.m., a crowd of approximately 200 students had gathered on Old Campus.
Several students in the crowd looked up toward the roof of Phelps Hall, trying to anticipate the location of the ball’s arrival. In 2011, the ball emerged from Dwight Chapel.
Prior to the game, emails circulated around various campus organizations saying the University administration was aware of the plans and warned participants that they risked being sent before the Executive Committee for participating. A number of freshmen interviewed said that they had been advised by their freshman counselors not to participate in the game for this reason. Several students on Old Campus expressed a lack of concern about repercussions from the police or the administration. An anonymous junior said she felt the police presence offered a “shallow threat.”
“If I’m going to be arrested, it would be for a good cause,” Gary Sharp ’16 said.
Students rushed to the ball en masse as soon as it appeared, but the police quickly outpaced them. One police officer quickly managed to pop the ball.
To the sound of students’ “boos,” two Yale Police officers carried the popped ball from entryway C of Durfee Hall through the Elm Street gate and around the corner of Lanman-Wright Hall where they placed it in the trunk of a police vehicle parked on High Street. The police officer who popped the ball did not comment on what would be done with the ball or where they were taking it.
Yale Police Department Chief, who appeared in plain clothes on Old Campus after the ball was popped, said he was not a bladderball expert, but that any game with such a significantly sized ball and so many participants created a very serious public safety issue. The game could become dangerous for students if the ball entered the street, Higgins added.
“There’s a balance between the safety of the community and all of you, and having fun,” Higgins said.
Despite safety concerns, students voiced frustration that the game had been so short-lived. Joe Bedford ’18 said he was disappointed that the police did not allow students to play with the ball for at least a few minutes.
After the game was halted by the police, no students were taken away or individually reprimanded.
Correction, Nov. 3: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated where the bladderball emerged from in 2011. A previous version also incorrectly stated that the Branford College Council sent an email about Bladderball.