On September 23, 2022, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) Campus Rec hosted its famous, time-honored tradition — the 33rd annual Oozeball Tournament.
For over three decades, hundreds of students come together to play in the campus-wide mud volleyball tournament. The event has grown so much in popularity over time that many freshmen arriving on campus for the first time have already heard about the sloppy competition.
“At this point Oozeball is a staple on this campus,” said Drew Barfield, the assistant director for Membership and Technology. “It’s talked about at orientation, and pictures and video are included in all campus life material shown to students as they transition to UTA. We have seniors that play in it for the first time, and they will typically say they had to do so before they graduated because they didn’t want to miss out.”
This year’s event hosted over 400 students competing across 92 teams. The tournament saw record of 154 teams in 2012.
Barfield said Oozeball was first founded in 1989 by Doug Kuykendall, the former director of Campus Recreation, and Jeff Sorensen, the former director of Student Activities.
“To my knowledge, they just wanted to create a fun event for the students,” said Barfield. “It started with one court and four teams. According to Doug, president Wendell Nedderman broke his leg during the first event. He and Jeff thought the event, along with their employment, was doomed because of the accident. However, despite his mishap, the president took it in stride and recognized the value of having a unique special event on campus.”
Now, the tournament is played on 10 courts with around 100 teams participating. In fact, UTA has its own Oozeball Courts located behind Greek row. At one point, the space was almost lost to expansion, but Barfield said his department fought to keep the area for the beloved tournament.
“Campus Rec made a compelling argument for keeping the space available for Oozeball and since then, there has been no talk of putting any buildings there,” said Barfield. “Given the premium that real estate is on campus, the preservation of that space to maintain it for Oozeball shows the value the university places on the event.”
Oozeball began at 1 p.m. on September 23 and eventually ended around 6:30 p.m. after a total of 183 matches were played. Aside from concessions and a live DJ, there are no other attractions during the event.
“Considering the tremendous mess around courts that day, typical campus event attractions would not work, and the mud volleyball is enough of a spectacle in of itself,” said Barfield. “The students really enjoyed the event getting back to pre-pandemic numbers.”
Previously, the tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 event was conducted while academic classes were still in hybrid mode which kept numbers lower than expected. But he said this year finally felt like a true return to normal.
Takeaways and Advice
Barfield said the biggest lesson they have learned is they need to staff up next year to adequately manage the hundreds of participants surging back to Oozeball.
For other campus rec departments considering starting their own annual tradition for students, Barfield said to get the support of other departments first.
“We absolutely could not run this event without the Office of Facilities Maintenance,” said Barfield. “It’s also important to have a dedicated space for an event like this. It’s great for the university as retention is critically important to an institution of higher education. As a long-standing tradition, Oozeball is one of those events that enhances the student experience and helps keep them engaged. Campus Recreation is proud to provide this for the university.”