On Huntington University’s campus, bouncy balls round out students’ education with an extra dose of smiles. A professor keeps things quirky with an unexpected scavenger hunt.
By Lucy Landon, Contributor
“Bouncy ball hunting is a competitive sport,” said Kaitlin Yeomans, a sophomore animation student at Huntington University. “You gotta sneak up on them real careful-like and swipe them with a net from behind. And you can’t make much noise, or you’ll scare them off.”
Yeomans is one of many students who enjoys hunting for the brightly-colored spheres that hide in strange corners of the Huntington University campus. The bouncy balls can be found everywhere: in the Merillat Centre for the Arts, in the administrative offices, in the Dowden Science Hall, in the dorms — even in snowmen.
But how did they get there? And why do they seem to be multiplying? The answer lies with Bryan Ballinger, a professor of digital media arts at HU.
“I’m pretty sure Ballinger runs an underground bouncy ball trade ring,” said Curtis Wood, a visiting instructor of animation, “and also manufactures them in his basement.”
Another popular rumor is that the bouncy balls exist in such large numbers because they originally filled a whole office. But Ballinger denies all credit for the colorful chaos.
“It’s true that one of the … rumors is that a bearded faculty member is the source of these balls,” said Ballinger. “Not to throw anyone under the bus, but Professor Matt Webb has a beard.”
Students have testified to Ballinger gifting them bouncy balls to hide across campus. When other students find them, some keep the bouncy balls. Others enjoy moving them to new hiding spots.
Last year, students formed a club — calling themselves “the Bouncy Hunters” — that hunted and hid bouncy balls together. Though it was short-lived, the students enjoyed the community it sparked.
“Most of us were freshmen at the time,” said Rebekah Karp, an HU sophomore. “Hiding them for others to find and post on Facebook made us feel a part of something.”
The bouncy balls have a Facebook page dedicated to them. On it are pictures of the balls in their hiding places. The page — “HU BOUNCYBALLS” — currently has 173 members, both alumni and current students.
It’s another way that Foresters connect with each other and affirm a sense of community.
“I do think that students now have a newfound spring in their steps,” said Ballinger when asked about the impact of the bouncy balls on students. “Their education is clearly more well-rounded, and they seem better able to rebound from setbacks.”
The students aren’t the only ones who relish the bouncy balls. Many of the staff in Becker Hall enjoy finding the balls scattered across their offices. For Tammy Gass, an accountant in the business office, they always make a day brighter. She keeps one with her paper clips on her desk.
For Curtis Wood, the bouncy balls are a small way to help people feel like part of an inside joke. The community and encouragement they foster is important.
The daily grind of life is causing many students enough psychological turmoil that they have trouble functioning in every-day life, according to an article in The New York Times. Colleges are expanding counseling services in an effort to meet the needs of their students but are largely unable to cope with the demand.
Strange as it might sound, this is one area where small, personal, and ridiculous interactions — like communal bouncy ball hunting — could help. Interviewees agreed that little doses of encouragement go a long way towards building happy, healthy individuals.
“There’s an old saying that most things in life can either make you laugh or make you cry,” said Scott Weems, author of Ha!: The Science of How We Laugh and Why, in an email interview. “I think in times of conflict and stress, the brain often doesn’t know how to respond. Back in our early days … our brains coped with the conflict by screaming and hitting each other with sticks.”
The best scientific theory says that eventually the screaming evolved to laughter, he added — and now we mostly refrain from hitting each other with sticks.
“If you can take a lighthearted or humorous approach in a setting, especially an educational one, it can make the interaction a lot more pleasant for everyone,” said Weems.
The bouncy balls on the HU campus certainly fit the bill.
Joseph Landon, a junior animation major at HU, usually moves the bouncy balls when he finds them. He also has a sizable collection himself — and he plans to keep collecting. Curtis Wood has been throwing any bouncy balls he finds on top of the duct work in the animation labs for several years now, and Landon is happily plotting.
“They never fall down again,” said Landon, “so I imagine there’s quite a supply up there. I intend to bring a ladder in some day and retrieve them all if I can.”
The bouncy balls accompany Landon wherever he goes, including onstage during the song “Cannan Days” in last year’s theatre production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. With them travel smiles.
“Other students seem to find it funny that I constantly have bouncy balls in my pockets or backpack,” he said. “If I can bring a little joy to the rest of campus by carrying bouncy balls, then I’m happy.”