March 29, 2011

Big Red Ambition: # 76. Play Co-ed Intramural Innertube Water Polo

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Monday night circa 10 p.m., I put on a bathing suit, strapped on an ear cap guard and jumped into an innertube in Teagle pool. I also put on my game face somewhere in between the bathing suit and the pool jump.

That sequence of events might seem random and bizarre, but for those who partake in Cornell’s co-ed innertube water polo intramural league, that’s a standard Monday night ritual. If you had no idea such a thing even existed, fear not; neither did I until a few weeks ago. As I was reviewing my 161 progress, I lamented to my friend M that convincing an entire legion of friends to put on bathing suits in the middle of winter for a friendly game of innertube waterpolo was just not practical —  not to mention finding innertubes, available pool time and the obviously necessary and stylish ear cap protectors that the sport requires. And that was when M informed me that he already had an entire team of innertube water polo players and was in the legitimate intramural league. A league?! There’s an entire league for this ridiculousness?!? Yes, and it is awesome.

Naturally, I invited myself onto M’s team, beginning my long and prosperous innertube waterpolo career. Sidenote: the intramural league doesn’t actually require ear caps, but some teams like M’s (or maybe only M’s?) wear them for the full competitive effect.

I must confess the first time I attempted to crash the team two weeks ago, I forgot my Cornell I.D. Yes, I know it is clearly stated in intramural rules that you must have a student I.D. to be eligible to play. I’m an idiot, but these things happen. I’m certain I was not the first Cornell student to forget her student I.D. amidst the mental preparation for an intense intramural game. Unfortunately, the ref did not enjoy the tragic tale of my “lost” I.D. in the snow banks of Collegetown, and I was forbidden from entering the playing area. It probably was a blessing in disguise (eh, I was pretty pissed) because I was forced to observe the game and learn the rules of the league without rushing into actually playing. However, I can assure you innertube water polo is not a spectator’s sport.

In case you’re not familiar with water polo, the aim of the game is simple and comparable to many other sports: score. Water polo is a team sport. Each team consists of six players plus a goalkeeper. The game involves the players swimming and passing the ball in the hopes of scoring by throwing the ball into the opposing team’s net. In the case of the intramural league, some rules deviate from the standard game you might watch on television or play in a real NCAA league. For one, all players must be sitting in an innertube. Not standing through the tube but rather sitting in the tube as if you were a baby, sitting in a cradle (bear with me, it’s the best comparison I can think of). Furthermore, since it is a co-ed league, the league accounts for gender differences and advantages re: scoring. If a male scores it is worth one point. If a female scores it is worth two points. When I initially heard this rule I was offended, and then I actually played and understood … You can only throw the ball with one hand, and most males can ‘palm’ the ball, so to speak, thus enabling them to throw it with greater ease.

Players can also flip opponents out of their tubes if the opponent possesses the ball. This rule proved to be the most irritating for me, as I was flipped from my tube upwards of eight times. It is not easy to properly reposition yourself inside the tube, and you cannot be considered an active player until you are back in cradle position (you remain in the water at all times). Anyway, enough with the technicalities… let’s play ball (or, uh, read about it).

The game is as hilarious and absurd to play as it sounds. Translation: it is extremely fun and entertaining. Although the tube saves you from treading the entire game as in “normal” water polo, it seriously slows you down as well. All players, more or less, look like crabs turned over on their backs, splashing furiously at each other. There were definitely some kids who had legit skill and finesse, and some players could throw that ball pretty damn hard. I learned this when a player on the opposite team was aiming for the goal and ended up slamming the ball directly into my sternum while I was on defense (thanks for that, A).

The truth is, if you’re willing to swim and laugh (and maybe get clobbered by the ball), the intramural league is designed for players of all abilities. General athleticism is clearly helpful, but there isn’t too much you can do to prepare for the innertube or the unpleasant water-up-the-nose if a player flips you out of your tube. Competitive edge is always a plus, but the pre-game, game and post-game atmospheres were generally friendly and sportsmanlike. Good times were had by all.

Major shout-out to the Senior Sudzzz (with three z’s) who let me join the team. Cornell’s intramural innertube waterpolo league will soon begin its play-off season, but if you happen to befriend an innertuber on a team in the play-offs … I recommend you crash that party.

Original Author: Eve Shabto