It sounds like a place out of Winnie the Pooh. “The mud pit off St. Rita’s Lane, right by the South Lake Village.”
And part of the charm of UB’s Oozefest, the mud volleyball tournament taking place Saturday on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst, is that it can bring back memories of childhood, when you got so dirty that you didn’t even care.
Now in its 32nd year, Oozefest is one of UB’s most beloved traditions.
The double-elimination tourney started in 1984 to help soothe stressed-out students as exam season approached. At that time, according to UB, there were 16 teams and two courts. Saturday will see 192 teams splashing around on 24 courts. It has run every year without interruption – although historians point out that there were a few years when, because of a typo, the spelling changed from Oozefest to Oozfest.
A carefree spirit reigns.
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As was the case with a previous stop on our 100 Things tour, the Turkey Trot, a lot of the competitors wear costumes. Team themes run the gamut from clowns, superheroes and beer cans to bishops and Santa Clauses. Last year a cereal team included the Lucky Charms leprechaun, Count Chocula and a Honey Nut Cheerios honey bee.
Oozefest even has a team costume contest, with the winners rewarded with free registration the following year. The contest is sponsored by a team of alumni, called “Poached Trout in a White Wine Sauce,” after a Monty Python skit. Garbed in voluminous get-ups, they’ve been competing for more than 20 years.
Oozefest is not Boozefest. Alcohol is banned. The only mood-altering substance is mud.
Hilariously, the competition is open to alumni as well as students, as long as they register (the deadline has passed) and pay the fee ($150 per team). Players dive in early in the day and wallow in competition until around 4 p.m., when the finals begin. There are trophies and prizes.
There’s a dance floor, and a lot of spectators. All in all, about 1,500 people show up at the mud pit for Oozefest every year.
Clear your calendar and join them. Once Oozefest gets underway, the beauty of the event will sink in.
You’ve heard of the melting pot – this is the melting pit. A few rounds, and you can’t tell the seniors from the frosh. And you know how anthropologists predict that at some point all the races in the world will blend into one color, brown? That is already happening here. Some players, covered head to toe in mud, look like strange sculptures.
For the novice, the UB Student Affairs website offers helpful advice.
“Duct tape is essential! If you don’t want to give everyone a free show during Oozefest, or lose any footwear.”
“Duct-taping your pants to your skin – we are serious, folks!”
“Don’t wear your brand-new Air Jordans.”
“Garbage can liners are your Oozefest friend!” And this enticement:
“Be sure you get muddy, it’s fun!”
It’s also a novelty to most of us.
Up till now, our muddiest experience on the 100 Things journey has been the hike to the Eternal Flame in Chestnut Ridge Park. For those ready to take it to the next level – well, you might find yourself agreeing with the UB community that mud can wash away your worries.
And if it doesn’t, so what?
To quote Oozefest T-shirts, “A little dirt never hurt.”