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TI takes the championship in the annual dodgeball showdown

The first balls started flying around 5:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon. A champion finally emerged from the field at approximately 2:15 a.m. the following morning. Riding the arms of the men’s water polo team and the defensive prowess of sophomore 133 lb wrestler Chris Perez, the Tiger Inn took home the $1000 in prize money and all manners of pride that come with winning a large-scale intramural event.

Following what has been a tumultuous time in the eating club due to leadership change, this win will likely prove a boost to morale.

(Note: This writer is a member of the Tiger Inn and competed in the event, but will do his utmost to maintain a balanced viewpoint.)

Much like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the annual ritual of dodging both balls and “out” calls follows a four-bracket format leading to a final four playoff. Rather than regionally-based, at Princeton each division is designated by size: small, medium, large, huge. You could call it the Big Dodge if you were feeling inspired by March Madness.

Much like the range of social activity at Princeton, teams ranged from egalitarian to exclusive. The mega-court at the center of Dillon Gymnasium saw jam-packed battles between eating clubs. In reality, these bouts saw Frankenstein teams put together at a moment’s notice from the pool of Tigers prowling the courts. Shirts were often exchanged to demonstrate a change in allegiance or as a tactic to get back into a game unnoticed.

H2Omega was the pseudo-fraternity designation for the men’s water polo team. (Note: The “H” is not an “Eta” as one might expect, but is a stand in for “Hydrogen.” It’s a joke, guys.) The DeNunzio Pool residents sported Hawaiian shirts and arms suited to firing round projectiles at high velocities.

Basketball, which featured the arms of some of the Ivy League’s best athletes along with a number of ringers, showed up clothed in all-black and doused in confidence. The in-tournament Twitter action featured hashtags from the squad such as #defendingchamps and #BACK2BACK.

Confidence would not prove quite enough for the cagers who, after topping the water polo squad in the middle division championship, could not finish off the scrappy Tiger Inn despite holding a perceived advantage nearly throughout the game. In what was a fairly characteristic moment, a refrain of “More dudes!” came from the TI fan base when they realized, although their side was at a 6-3 disadvantage, they had three men left to basketball’s two male players.

On the whole, games ranged from civil to fiery. Perez, frequently staring down his opponents from an un-hittable defensive crouch, gained, as one observer noted, the simultaneous attention and ire of the crowd.

Football had been eagerly awaiting the challenge posed by TI. Their top 20 had been heckling Perez in a futile attempt to get in the wrestler’s head. The crowd — read, this writer — wanted nothing more than to see junior quarterback Quinn Epperley fire a few across the zone. But there would be no point in risking the rotator cuff strain that comes with the game and lingers for about a day afterwards.

Before the final, the football team broke down with a Lord’s Prayer. Former gridiron players or fans of the TV series “Friday Night Lights” may well be familiar with the practice. This particular breakdown has the ability to amplify a side’s energy like no other.

A comment from the stands echoed the understanding present in the championship bout: “This is a surprisingly fair game.” The final contest came down not to the deviousness that had dominated tournament play, but to a mutual level of respect.

The Ivy League football champions had mostly run over their competition. But they could not overcome the form that had gotten TI so far. A loud celebration featuring the club’s distinctive chant followed after Perez and company pulled off a decisive victory.

Due to the particular zone many participants found themselves in, and due to the fact that I found myself in direct competition with a number of sources, there was not a great deal to be gleaned from talking with the different tournament stars. What’s more, there’s not much fair and balanced reporting to be done at 2:30 a.m. on a college campus on a Saturday morning. So excuse the lack of direct quotations.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest game of dodgeball ever played lasted 41 hours, three minutes and 17 seconds. This marathon took place at Castleton State College in Vermont in order to benefit the charity “Right to Play.”

Before Friday’s event, senior John Wolfe in fact reactivated his thesis-deactivated Facebook account in order to repost his sardonic “Refresher Course: The Rules of Dodgeball.” (Note: Wolfe is a senior writer for the Daily Princetonian.) The article, based on his unrivaled expertise in the beautiful game, began its laundry list with “You must be hit three times to become out,” and included apparent paradoxes such as “Each team is only allowed to play with 10 more players than the opposing team’s legal maximum.”

A spiritual leader of the sprint football team, Wolfe deserves praise as one of the all-time great Princeton intramural dodgeballers. By his account, he was in the same position Perez was last year in a semifinal bout, again playing “for no reason” for basketball. When the tight end/defensive back faced a number of opponents solo, he held on and caught his last foe’s throw to get the eventual champions to the final showdown.

Speaking of reasons, the Weston, Mass. native Wolfe was quoted in the Oct. 9, 2013 issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly in an article entitled “Sprint Football: Undaunted in Defeat” about the frustrating endeavor of losing with such regularity. “There’s no fame or glory in sprint,” he remarked. “These guys show up for the right reason, for the only reason: to play football.” For this attitude, Wolfe has earned the respect of his colleagues, athletic and otherwise.

If — and that’s a big if — you poke around for dodgeball-inspired work on IMDb, you’ll likely run into the obviously-named “Dodgeball.” The 1995 “docu-comedy,” billed with a tagline “There’s a reason why you are so messed up,” apparently stars an actor named John Wolfe as Coach Clifford Buzz. I struggle to rationalize how strange a coincidence this is.

The staff of The Daily Princetonian did not fare particularly well. Riding an inspired performance by associate sports editor Jack Rogers, the journalists took down Shere Kahn with relative ease. However, in the next round a numerically-superior Orange Key squad managed to dissect the ‘Prince’ with a decisive victory.

Advice to future teams: If you’re looking to make a run, don’t rely too heavily on in-house talent. Due to the short-order nature of tournament logistics, assembling a squad through ListServ communication will not fill out a court.

Published less than a month after the $167 million grossing “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” a 2004 Washington Post article described the explosion of interest in the schoolyard activity turned sport. Players quoted in the article, entitled “All Grown Up, Dodgeball Hurtles Toward a Higher Popularity,” spoke of their endeavor with a certain level of professionalism, including knowledge of the precise dimensions of the regulation ball.

The marathon intramural event lends itself to a certain prevailing attitude: there’s no shame in defeat, and there’s no shame in victory.

Some participants found a great deal of success getting in the ears and heads of officials. Decisions were, in every instance, unclear. They had no basis in objective fact, but rather were founded in the prevalence of loud opinions. In dodgeball, the small differences in perceived ability that separate teams will likely not, in reality, prove decisive. At that point, in the generally chaotic atmosphere, the mostly indescribable drive to win determines the champion.

In the most cynical display of dodgeball since… actually, there isn’t much or any history to draw on here. Regardless, the Tiger Inn squad faced down a severe numerical disadvantage against the Cap & Gown Club in the huge bracket final. By a pregame agreement between captains and referees, the game would feature both sides in their entirety for ten minutes, followed by, if necessary, a 10-on-10 sudden death. TI’s leadership realized that they could not overcome Cap’s size.

As a result, they selected a squad of 10 outstanding shooters, who took seats in a corner of the court in order to avoid the opposing club’s barrage. Perez, fairly confident that he would not get out, used his crouching technique to survive in a similar manner.

Once the 10 minutes had elapsed, the TI core was able to dispatch Cap’s assembled squad.

Under the particular set of pressures that IM dodgeball furnishes, the spirit and letter of the law become conflated and, soon after, disregarded.

Internet writer Giovanni Francesco Valentino — whose name is some sort of a cross between fashion designer and Italian Renaissance artists — posted a personal analysis of dodgeball on his blog, “Exaggerated Rants and Strange Musings,” which aimed at the more common understanding of the activity as a means of flexing athletic prowess. In the 2013 rant/musing, he wrote “I never liked the game of dodge ball. I found it to be a giant waste of time. I thought it was just an excuse to let the jocks bean the nerds with a large red ball. So, I never wanted to play, and when we did, I took the game quite literally. I dodged the ball. Just dodged the ball.”

Just about any other sporting event will have more integrity. But none will test my understanding of what a sport is more than the Annual Princeton Dodgeball Tournament.

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