Are you ready for some noonball?
A peek into the thrice-weekly pickup game that pits students against faculty and staff on the hardwood of Jordan Gym.
By Kristin M. Simonetti ’05
The rhythmic sound of a bouncing ball is hardly foreign to Jack Wooten, an assistant coach for the Phoenix men’s basketball team. But when he and his fellow coaches Monty Sanders ’09, Will Roberson and Tim Sweeney heard the sound emanating from Jordan Gym every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12 p.m., they were intrigued.
“We wondered, ‘well, what is this all about?’” Wooten recalls.
When they walked across the Koury Center Atrium, they stumbled upon a little-known Elon tradition: Noonball, a lunchtime pickup game that brings faculty, staff and students together for friendly competition three days a week. So the coaches decided to join in.
“They were very welcoming, the professors and the students,” Wooten says, “and we’ve been hooked ever since.”
The exact origins of Noonball aren’t clear, but Joel Karty, associate professor of chemistry, says it predates his arrival at Elon more than 10 years ago.
“I hear stories of yore about Gerry Francis coming out here and showing some students a lesson or two on the court,” Karty says, noting the tradition had waned in the years before he came to Elon.
He and Joel Hollingsworth, senior lecturer of computing sciences, “were basketball players in a previous life” and worked to resuscitate the game. At the beginning of each academic year, Karty sends an email to faculty and staff inviting them to join in the fun.
The recruiting process for students is more informal, happening mainly through word-of-mouth. Sophomore Tony Woods, a basketball player since age 3 who hopes to make the Elon varsity basketball team next year, heard about Noonball from a friend who works at Campus Recreation and decided to give it a try.
“It’s a little weird,” Woods says of playing against professors and other staff, “but it’s fun. You’ll talk about assignments, then you’ll get into a little trash talk on the
court. It’s a good experience.”
Noonball starts when 10 people arrive at Jordan Gym to field two teams, but the crowd typically swells to 20 players or more. The first and last games are played to 21 points; games in between go to 17 points to allow as many people on the court as possible in the 1 1/2 hours Noonball lasts. Players call their own fouls, and the team that wins gets to stay on the court.
“If you lose, you don’t get to play for 30 minutes sometimes,” Roberson says. “That’s when it gets really competitive.”
It’s exactly that quality that attracts so many students to Noonball. The opportunity to play against former collegiate basketball players doesn’t hurt either: Sanders played for Elon, Wooten for the University of North Carolina and Sweeney for the University of Rochester.
“They let us relive our glory days out here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Sanders quips.
“It’s really cool to play with people of that caliber,” says senior Paul Riuli, who’s been a regular Noonball player for more than three years. “They’re very competitive, and you have to really give it your all.”
Like College Coffee on Tuesdays or Chapel on Thursdays, the beauty of Noonball is its ability to bring people from different parts of campus together. And that’s what keeps faculty, staff and students coming back for more, year after year.
“I’m in the sciences,” Karty says, “and when you have someone from art and history and sociology, and everyone comes out and plays together, those are people that I’d never get to know if I didn’t come out here. The same goes for the students.”
This story first appeared in the Spring 2012 edition of The Magazine of Elon. To see the latest edition, click here.