One of my formative orientation week events was Big Red Ball.
For those of you who don’t know what Big Red Ball is, don’t worry—it’s really simple. All you need is two goal posts, a large open space and a ball. The rules are almost exactly like those of soccer, except instead of a small, black and white ball you use a big red ball. Like you know those big inflated balls you see in the Walmart children’s section, held inside a standing container with rubber straps so you could pull the balls out from the bottom and throw them back over the top? I’m talking bigger than those.
Every year, Cornell Cru organizes the event on Rawling’s Green (North Campus). My being there was more of an accident than anything else. The week before, I had been walking home from central campus one day when I was met with a roadblock in front of Balch Hall. The path from the road all the way up to the Arch was covered in tables and standing signs. Someone had set up a barbecue and the entire green smelled like a picnic. There was music blaring and some kids were throwing a Frisbee around off to the side. Unknowingly, I had just wandered onto the Spirit of Cornell. The annual orientation event featured clubs from all sorts of religions and faiths, all lined up next to each other at booths along the main path.
I weaved my way from booth to booth, smiling and talking to those who looked my way. I stopped at a particular booth that had by far the most people conglomerated around it. This was the Cru table. They smiled and asked me about my move-in, and after a short while, they handed me a schedule of orientation events and sent me on my way.
I threw the brochure in my bag among piles of other papers, quarter cards and brochures and didn’t think much of it for the rest of the week. It wasn’t until Friday, when my first week of classes was finally over and University-sponsored Orientation events were winding down that I finally dumped my bag out onto the floor and began sorting through my massive stash of club pamphlets. I found the Cru events list and scanned it skeptically.
Then I saw it.
Big Red Ball. Friday, 3:00 PM. Rawlings Green. No description.
It was in less than an hour. I had to do it. I changed into something ambiguous enough to pass for whatever kind of event this might be, and marched out to Rawlings Green.
I don’t know what I expected. It was soccer just… with a big red ball. One of the Cru leaders bounded over to me and introduced himself. He asked if I wanted to play and I—being the overly-competitive butterfly that I am—said “Heck yes” and was put into play immediately.
Now the thing you have to know about big red ball is that even though it looks like soccer, the fundamentals of it are very different. The first thing you need to understand is that literally everything looks ridiculous when playing Big Red Ball. There’s no graceful way to go about getting a ginormous hunk of plastic from one end of a field to the other. Kicking it so that it travels any distance requires your entire leg, not just swinging from your knees down. And when you did hit it at a high enough speed to travel anywhere, the ball would go pinballing off of your teammates at supersonic speeds. In fact we soon realized that a great tactic was to kick the ball at our opponent. If it was travelling fast enough, it would just bounce off them and fly off into the air. I found myself crying from laughter after only a few minutes from the absurd stunts and belly flops from team members who over-rotated on their enormous kicks.
The second thing to understand about Big Red Ball is that you’re playing with a ball five times the size of a soccer ball and a goal that is exactly the same size. I cannot stress enough how frustrating it was to watch my perfect, beautiful shot arc through the air, spiral toward the goal and watch it get easily picked out of the air by the goalie. The scores were low but morale was high. Every missed goal every whiff was met by the applause from both ends of the team and the audience.
Finally, the last thing to understand about Big Red Ball is that even though the ball is essentially just 14 square feet of air, it will hurt you if it smashes into your face at high speeds.
I had to sit out the rest of the game. Really, my pride had been hurt more than my face. I sat on the sideline with the rest of the spectators and watched the two teams scramble after the ball, slip and slide, and laugh together. I rooted on my team when they had the ball, and rooted on the other team when they had the ball. I don’t really know who won—no one kept score, but that was alright.
Big Red Ball stuck with me I think partially because of how ridiculous it was—this was definitely not what I had pictured myself doing in college just a few weeks before move-in day—but also because the people that were there made it the absolute best. Everyone was supportive and so, so inclusive. Everyone who stopped to check it out was invited to join. And after all the orientation meetings and dorm get-togethers and lunches with complete strangers, this was the first place I really felt like I had made friends.