Appropriately named Oozeball, this URI tradition was started by the student group in 1990 to raise money for an endowment fund in the URI Foundation. Today, each team’s $90 entrance fee is donated to the Rhody the Ram fund, which pays students for their time as URI’s beloved mascot.
The first Oozeball chair was Ken Knox, who graduated from URI in 1990. He said that he and the other members of the Student Alumni Association wanted to create an event that would boost school spirit. He said he’s been proud of Oozeball ever since the first tournament.
“We had to start from scratch,” he said. “It just hadn’t been done.” The planning of the tournament was quite the undertaking, but it was well worth it. The enthusiasm he exhibited when talking about Oozeball during a job interview made Knox stand out. “I think it actually got me the job, to tell you the truth!” he said.
That enthusiasm was matched by the URI students, as about 500 played in the first Oozeball tournament. “It was a fun day,” remembered Knox. “Everybody had a blast.”
Now, more than 1,000 students and alumni play in the tournament each year, with scores more coming to cheer on friends during the all-day event. One alumni team arrives in a limo each year and plays in tuxedos and formal gowns, said Matt Sirois of Hanover, Pa., this year’s Oozeball chair.
Sirois said this year will be the biggest Oozeball tournament yet. The Student Alumni Association added a 14th court, allowing 224 teams to play, 12 more than 2014. “We’re trying to make it bigger and better than it has been for the 25th,” he said.
This year the group is adding an exciting new component called Oozeville. The more than 140 campus organizations can host free mud-themed activities outside the Oozeball fence, like three-legged races or exercise classes. “We wanted something to bring all campus organizations together,” said Sirois.
And that unity, according to Sirois, is one of the biggest draws of Oozeball. “It’s the one time in the spring when the whole University can get together,” he said.
“It’s controlled chaos,” for both players and organizers, said Sirois.
He’s been a member of the Oozeball planning team since his freshman year. He and his team will arrive at the field on URI’s Kingston campus around 6:30 a.m. to set up nets and watch the fire department flood the courts with water, creating a foot of mud. No matter what, he said, “you will be covered in mud.”
This year’s theme is “25 Years of Ooze” in honor of the tournament’s anniversary. Previous themes have been “I’m Muddy and I Know It,” “United States of Ooze,” and the “Muddy Games” in honor of the premier of the “Hunger Games” last year.
WHAT GOES UP: Players in the 1996 edition of Oozeball position themselves as they wait for the ball to come down. URI Photo by Nora Lewis
INTENSE ACTION: Players from 1996 are in full mud mode in this photo.