Student center celebrates 11/11/11 with Ping-Pong toss

The bookstore launched 11,111 Ping-Pong balls from atop the building at 11:11:11 a.m.
Graduate student Amber Miller and junior Shaniqua Hohenkirk hold an umbrella to catch Ping-Pong balls Friday morning before the balls were thrown off the MU Student Center roof. People brought umbrellas, bags, baskets, backpacks and butterfly nets to catch the balls and win prizes from University Bookstore.

Some things happen every day, like bells ringing at Memorial Union and “Law and Order” marathons. Some things happen every week, like Sunday Night Football. Some things, though, happen only once every hundred years — 11/11/11.

University Bookstore put on an event Friday to commemorate the rare date. At 11:11:11 a.m., 11,111 Ping-Pong balls were flung from the roof of the MU Student Center over a crowd of hundreds. Of those balls, 1,111 were stamped with "11-11-11," signifying that the person could exchange it for a prize from the bookstore. Prizes included T-shirts, water bottles and a $500 textbook scholarship.

There was also an hourly raffle for prizes. Students filled out tickets at a table outside of the student center. Truman the Tiger was there as well, giving many students an opportunity to take a picture with him.

Announcer Ken Boehlke said he was hoping for a huge turnout.

"This event is three months in the making," he said. "I hope every student at this school comes, but I have absolutely no idea how many will."

The bookstore had been planning this event for months. It held practice runs for the drop as well as advertising throughout the bookstore.

"The bookstore staff was looking for something fun and exciting for the students," Student Auxiliary Services spokeswoman Michelle Froese said. "It's a rare opportunity, plus it's a Black and Gold Friday."

The crowd grew from a few students to masses numbering in the hundreds. Some were holding hampers, overturned umbrellas or laundry baskets to catch more Ping-Pong balls. Senior Gabriel Waterhouse found a box before the event and held it over his head during the drop. The 11,111 Ping-Pong balls were dumped at 11:11:11 after a loud countdown, and the atmosphere in the middle of the crowd was electric.

"It was chaotic," Waterhouse said. “It was like starving dogs all going after the same piece of meat. People threw their morals and manners out of the window."

There was an instant scramble in the crowd to collect up as many Ping-Pong balls as possible.

"Holding the box above my head didn't really work," Waterhouse said. "So I started scooping the balls into the box after they had fallen."

Junior Teagan Russell took a much different approach by hanging on the outskirts of the crowd, then diving in once the Ping-Pong balls had dispersed. She did manage to secure a stamped Ping-Pong ball, and was waiting in the prize line at the textbook counter. Russell heard about the event through advertising in the bookstore and through friends.

"It was unorganized, but events like this always are," she said. "I thought it was very innovative and inventive of the bookstore, though."

Freshman Claire Landsbaum was much further on the outskirts of the crowd. She got to the festivities late, and was unable to push far enough into the crowd to get a Ping-Pong ball. Landsbaum is a member of The Maneater staff.

"I feel like the event was overhyped," she said. "I was expecting a huge swath of Ping-Pong balls to come from the roof, and that didn't really happen."

The bookstore made efforts to remain sustainable. Grates and sewers were covered and unclaimed Ping-Pong balls will be donated to local craft stores, Froese said.

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