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Think You Know Your People? Not until They've Played Dodgeball

on October 24, 2011 4:47 PM

So you think you know your people, huh?

OK, you say: Some in the tribe are a few bananas shy of a full bunch. Fair enough. And there's always the wingnut who may or may not be doing unspeakable things to the office coffeepot. It happens.

By and large, though, your people are good people, right? Right. You run with a good crowd. Otherwise, it wouldn't be your crowd.

But let me tell you something: You don't know your people -- your own chosen tribe -- until you've seen them play dodgeball.

See, I thought I knew my people. We'll call them, in very general terms, the Penn State media people.

They report; they write; they edit. They shoot photos and videos, design pages, sell advertising. They inform town and gown, answer your questions, keep you entertained, fill your spare time.

They also, it turns out, are a repressed goon squad of violent tendencies.

They're a blood-happy mob willing to pry your eyes out with a dirty clothespin, insult your mother and pummel your face. Too poor to afford tranquility-inducing meds (Hey -- these aren't future Smeal alumni, OK?), they'll laugh hysterically when you fall to the cold ground -- and then smack you again, perhaps in the head.

OK -- to be fair, maybe not you specifically, you beautiful reader. Truly, they (probably) adore and revere you. They just detest one another. Or at least their rival organizations, anyway.

A Meeting of the Beasts

And so it was, as afternoon settled Saturday on the Pollock quad, these closet beasts converged on the basketball court for the inaugural Media Dodgeball Fall Classic. They represented four top student-media organizations at University Park: The Daily Collegian, Onward State, Phroth and Valley Magazine. (For a gallery of tourney photos by Andy Colwell, click on the large image above.)

Online chatter about the tourney idea began circulating some months back. But in the past several weeks, the pitch jumped headlong into reality.

By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, the journos had prepared for days -- perhaps weeks -- largely by talking trash on Twitter and Facebook.

For the Collegian and Onward State especially, it was to be a physical Airing of Grievances, in supreme Festivus fashion. No one put it quite that way, of course, but that was the clear undercurrent. The pain train was fueled and prepared for a non-stop express trip.

After all, tensions between the newspaper and the blog have been building for several years. You have, on one side, the Collegian: the indomitable, 125-year-old powerhouse of student journalism, steeped in tradition and service. And then you have the much-watched, edgy Onward State: the relative upstart that's claimed national attention for its conversational, highly tech-driven approach to information and commentary.

No one with any common sense would volunteer to get between those two in a fight.

So I did: I offered to be the referee.

From Relative Calm to Bloodletting

It started out easily enough. The Phroth and Valley players took one another on with relative calm. Valley soon began slipping toward fourth place -- where it would land -- but not before team stand-out Ian Lopera notched an MVP-worthy performance. (He received that award later in the afternoon.)

Then the daggers came out.

The Collegian-Onward State match-ups turned almost war-like. Their lieutenants contested anything marginally questionable.

In? Out? Your momma? With the championship title and bragging rights on the line, everything was reason to scream. A couple fisticuffs nearly broke out.

Ultimately, it came down to one game and -- if you ask some players -- one call.

The Collegian had one player left on the court: Advertising Manager Mike Cottone. Onward State had a few left on its side.

Cottone apparently stepped over the middle line. But your intrepid ref missed the apparent violation because parties from both sides had been distracting his attention, tensions boiling over.

By how much did Cottone breach the line? I didn't know. Had someone somehow interfered? Why did he breach the line? Was it deliberate? Or had he slipped on the excessive tree debris littering that corner of the court? Had that been the case, how could I have rightfully declared him in violation?

I let Cottone stay in.

He went on to win it all for the Collegian. Onward State took second.

I'm now a beloved folk hero. And a despised, disgusting villain worthy of flaming excrement.

But at least no one insulted my momma.

Turning the Page

Preliminary conversation about a spring dodgeball tourney has already begun.

Phroth -- which won an award for sportsmanship Saturday -- better come back to bring the peace.

Because when media play, media play for blood.

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