"Mud, Sweat, and Tears"
He leaped to bump the ball, only to realize his feet were buried in the quicksand-like floor. The swamp he was standing in caused him to lose his balance and fall face first - with a splash. He was covered from head to toe in wet, freezing, chunky, brown mud - and he loved it. He used a teammate's shirt to wipe the mud out of his eyes and was ready to play again.
There are few reasons for college students to get up on a Saturday morning before 8 a.m. with upbeat demeanors and smiles on their faces. But one day a year, UB students get to disregard the lessons their parents taught them as kids - they get to play in the mud. This fiesta of mud, music, and competition is known as Oozefest.
"We're still verifying but I think we're the largest double-elimination collegiate mud-volleyball tournament," said Patty Starr, the assistant director for student alumni programs.
At first sight the spectacle can be overwhelming to onlookers. As the crowd poured into the usually dormant volleyball pits adjacent to Southlake Village, students were seen securing the duct tape holding their sneakers to their feet as they prepared for a volleyball mud battle with over 190 other teams.
Food, music, and an electric atmosphere all came with the $150 team entry fee. The money generated from Oozefest is partially spent on student alumni planning while the rest goes toward the J. Scott Fleming scholarship, one of the only student-to-student scholarships on campus.
Oozefest has become a popular reason for alumni to return to their alma mater. The 28th annual event this past Saturday was no exception. Graduates like Josh Sommer came all the way from Long Island just to get dirty.
"We were on the Mudweiser team," Sommer said. "This is my fourth year doing Oozefest and it's a great time. It's a good time to coordinate with people and just come back for an alumni event."
Sommer spent the day with mud caking his face and hair and weighing down his clothes that were duct taped to his body. He loved every minute of it.
Typically, tradition calls for everyone to jump into the lake to clean off, but this year the frigid weather made students apprehensive. Hot showers were available outside of Alumni after teams finished up. One shower is usually not enough to feel clean. Sommers said he usually finds dirt in his ears and nose for up to three days.
Other alumni come back to experience Oozefest for the first time after not participating during their undergraduate career.
"This is actually my first year doing it," said Ryan Linden, a UB school of accounting alumnus who graduated in 2011. "It's basically just volleyball in disgusting mud and it's fun because everyone gets gross. It's the cool thing to do."
Linden came from New York City. His biggest reason to come up for the weekend, other than Oozefest, was to see his old friends. He regretted not participating as an undergraduate and was glad he finally got to jump into the mud pit this year. With both of those goals out of the way, Linden was looking forward to a much-needed shower - or maybe three.
Oozefest represents the final hurrah before finals week begins. It helps students let off steam after a semester full of hard work. What students don't see, however, is all of the planning and coordination that goes into the event.
"It's a year-long planning effort," Starr said. "We have two staff and one student staff devoted to it and 200 volunteers helping out as well as the rest of our regular staff, since it's all hands on deck."
The culmination of a year's worth of planning and preparation must end with a victorious team that rises above the rest of the field.
After nearly eight hours of bloody, muddy, volleyball action, team "Seven and a Half Men" rose to the top after defeating "The Sheepherders" in the final round of volleyball. "Seven and a Half Men" were last year's reigning champions and managed to pull off another win amongst many other talented and gritty teams.
With muddy hands and dirt caked into their skin, the victors held the trophy high in the air, chanting: "We'll be back next year for the three-peat!"
In Oozefest's wake, trails of muddy footprints followed participants back to the dorms and cars. Mud littering the sidewalks and roadways as herds of dirty UB students walked to the warm showers for the first round of cleaning. The squishing of waterlogged shoes and irreversibly dirty clothes was all worth it at the end for a day full of fun with friends and peers.