Back in August, the board members of the National Collegiate Sports Association gathered around the fabled oval table in Jacksonville to discuss the addition of a new sport to the collegiate docket. Outside, temperatures hiked 100 degrees, and the central air conditioning unit broke down in the middle of the meeting. “How could you even consider this?” Jon Cheeseman, president of Eastern California University, asked the other members of the board as beads of sweat ran down his forehead onto his oversized nose.
“This sport, which has become immensely popular in colleges throughout the country over the past decade, requires a blend of athleticism, determination, and strategy,” Vice President of Operations and Promotions Mark Flufferton answered in his usual monotone.
“Kids roll themselves into a ball after their final exams. That’s not a sport. That’s a given,” Cheeseman responded, banging his fist on the table.
“Exactly, Jon. It’s a tradition … and think about the revenues we’ll make from ticket sales,” Flufferton replied.
With that, Cheeseman filled out his voting slip and stormed out of the room. Minutes later, the process was complete, as all of the other nine members of the board voted yea to include bodycurling to the list of competitive college sports, well above the 61 percent needed for ratification.
The first Division I national competitions will take place this December after final exams. Then, after a long, exhausting recruitment process, the first scholarship bodycurlers will arrive on college campuses next fall, ready to bring the sport to new floors.
The sport of bodycurling did not start off as a way to express disappointment after finals. Instead, it began as a way to stay warm, in a small log cabin in Ontario, Canada during the harsh winter of 1987. During a seven-day blizzard, one Joe White ran out of firewood and was forced to wait out the storm inside his freezing abode. Shivering from the bitter cold that had slithered its way into his home, he slid beneath a blanket and tucked his head in between his pelvis, thighs, and abdomen, and wrapped his arms around his legs. He stayed like this for 20 hours until, mercifully, the storm ended.
Over the past 15 years, the number of competitive college bodycurling clubs has gone up from six to 158 as students have become increasingly despondent over their test grades. But the original six remain at the top in this group by a wide margin. These schools are Princeton, which has retained the top spot each of the past four seasons, MIT, Cornell, CalTech, Columbia, and Rensselaer, which won the first five national club competitions in the early 90s, but has since slipped to number six in the nation.
During the nightmarish grind of preparing and taking finals, which features tremendous levels of sleep deprivation and self-deprecation, competitors consume large amounts of ice cream and cake in preparation for the championships. The goal is to become as round as possible in order to “be the ball” that they want to be. But preparation starts long before finals at daily practices throughout the semester. Here students go over film of their opponents and do calisthenics to improve their flexibility and endurance. Furthermore, because doing too many repetitions of curls can be a detriment to the body’s ability to form into a round mound, curls are only done once, sometimes twice, a week. The ideal ball closely matches the form pioneered by Joe White back in the day, with the head tucked among the thighs, abdomen, and pelvis, which together form a “cradle for the dome.”
Competitions for bodycurling are scored in a manner similar to gymnastics. Form and general aesthetics, such as how defeated each person looks, make up the two parts of the scoring system. Perfect scores are exceptionally rare. Take 2014 individual club champion Eddie “The Orb” Juan, who suffered through sixteen weeks of Aerodynamic Systems at MIT and managed just a 54 on his final exam. He was the best in the field, but despite his look of utter despair and his almost impeccable sphere technique, he finished with a near flawless score of 9.82 out of 10.
The stakes are higher this year due to it being the first time the competitions are sanctioned by the NCSA as official national championships. As such, the field will be enlarged to include the top 32 teams and the top 200 individual curlers. The competition will take place on December 22 and 23 at the North Lot at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where the collegiate tradition began.