Bascom Hill is the beating heart of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, its tree-lined east face surrounded by historic schools and structures, and crowned by the weather-beaten statue of Abraham Lincoln gazing out upon the city. Along with a fearsome reputation among campus commuters tasked with conquering its heights, the hill has also long served as a canvas for students engaging in anti-war protests, pink flamingo hijinks, and now, a snowball battle royale.
On Saturday, January 24, hundreds of students gathered upon the slopes of Bascom to engage in a frozen fracas intended to set a new world record for the largest snowball fight. The fight was planned and coordinated via a Facebook group titled "The Next Big Snowball Fight." Its stated goal: "To create the most epic snowball battle in the history of the University Bucky created."
Some 4,000 people had joined the group in advance of the showdown, giving boosters hope that the event would figuratively snowball into record-breaking contention. The pre-planned order of battle would pit students living in the two primary blocks of campus housing against one another, with Lakeshore residents dressed in red lining up along the northern slope of Bascom in front of the Education Building, and Southeast denizens clad in black arraying themselves on the southern side in front of the Law School.
Ulitmately, the number of participants fell far short of the goal set by organizers and boosters, who hoped to surpass the figure of 3,700 or so combatants who turned out for a snowball fight at Michigan Technological University in 2006. Cold temperatures in the single digits and the concurrent Badgers men's basketball game at Illinois cut down on the participants, though, and the dry and icy snow was not amenable to packing. This Wisconsin college try was quite the spectacle nonetheless, and drew plenty of attention in the process.
Along with the 700-plus volunteers out to fling fistfulls of snow, the battle also attracted a plethora of media and other observers, not to mention a team of student volunteer medical observers recruited by the Dean of Students office. Detailed reports about the fight were published in The Badger Herald and The Daily Cardinal, and post-battle wire reports were published throughout the state and beyond.
Commencing at 3 p.m. amidst jeering between the two opposing batteries, wave upon wave of snowballs soon started flying across the central slopes of Bascom. Eventually the larger numbers on the Lakeshore side overwhelmed their opponents after about a half-hour of the melee, with a whistle blast ending the battle and prompting the winners to whoop in jubilation and sing "Varsity."
"No question about it, Lakeshore outnumbered and out-fought Southeast dorms," declared one observer who published a briefphoto essay about the fight.
As should be expected, there was no shortage of photographers or videographers at the fight, and numerous videos documenting the event have been published online. One that stands out is a nearly 13-minute long video report created by Gabriel Starrett. Opening to the tune of what else but "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana, this footage was shot from the Lakeshore side of the battle.
The video ends with a simple message for the participants in the snowball fight: "We didn't get the record this year, but we'll definitely get it next year. To everyone that participated that was amazing and I hope all of your wounds heal. And may I congratulate Lakeshore on their complete victory over Southeast... no hard feelings alright? Peace and go Badgers!"
Plenty of other videos shot at this winter spectacle have likewise been published online over the last few days. Footage of varying lengths is available for viewing, including clips here, here, here, here, and here. The UW Communications office even published an online photo slide show of the fight.
The Bascom Battle of 2009 was only the latest in a series of pre-planned snowball fights on the UW campus in recent years. A battle organized via Facebook in February 2007 only drew a couple dozen people, but the ensuing 100-inch plus snowfall the following winter must have triggered something, because a two-day series of fights last December outside dormitories next to the Kohl Center drew hundreds of participants, not to mention the attention of the police. The notoriety of those fights helped build hype for last Saturday's melee, and organizers are already talking about next winter.
"Everyone try to stay in the group," declare organizers on Facebook, "we are going to go for the world record next time!"