Taking a shot at the record

UMBC students aim for a place in history by staging the world's largest water-gun fight.

April 17, 2005|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The sun was shining. The cameras were rolling. And the University of Maryland, Baltimore County students gathered between the orange cones were ready.

And then, in two minutes, it was all over. Sometime around 12:45 p.m. yesterday, the Catonsville campus made history - its students declared they had staged the Guinness Book of World Records' largest water-gun fight.

Never mind that only 114 people turned out for the battle or that they could only use puny squirt guns that needed constant refueling, or that at least one participant stepped out of bounds on the makeshift court, or that Guinness officials still needed to confirm the feat.

In truth, breaking the record wasn't hard because there wasn't one, according to the university. But that wasn't the point of the event, which was organized by the university's First Year Council. The council wanted to bring students together on a campus where newcomers can feel disconnected - and show prospective freshmen touring the school yesterday that UMBC has thriving school spirit.

"Our goal was to make sure that the next class of freshmen and first-year transfer students had a better first-year experience than we had," said K.B. Singh, a sophomore from northern India who was one of the six students who formed the council last spring. "Every year, we thought, we would find some record to break. This event has no current record, which we see as a great positive."

Singh was not familiar with squirt culture as a youth in India, and acknowledged that a pillow fight had been the group's first choice. But that event had a record already - 32,000 participants. UMBC only has 10,000 students.

Yesterday's water-gun fight took a year to plan. Council members decided to stage the event on Admitted Student Day, when some of the 1,500 prospective students tour the campus to decide whether they will attend. Then they sent out mass e-mails, booked entertainment and hoped for a sunny day.

It didn't look good yesterday morning, when the men's a cappella group Mama's Boys (official slogan: "We do it for the ladies") sang to the group of prospective students. Jay Lagorio, the freshman computer science major who had signed up to be the water fight's announcer, worried that hardly anyone would show up.

However, by start time, when Lagorio stood before the quad with his megaphone, the temperature had hit about 60 degrees - not exactly wet T-shirt weather, but close enough.

Before the students could start, Lagorio outlined Guinness' rules that were sent to them: Participants must shoot continuously for two minutes and cannot cross the no-man's land in the middle of the field. Although Guinness insisted the group be divided into two teams, Lagorio reminded players that they could shoot their own team members. The students videotaped their feat to send to Guinness to determine if in fact they had established a record.

The university had rules, too, courtesy of the legal department. To minimize the chance of injury, only small squirt guns that the council purchased for the event could be used during the battle. When the two minutes were up, however, students could break out the Uzi-style Super Soakers, which sported names such as the Vaporizer and the Shield Blaster.

Lagorio added his own stipulations: No dousing the announcer or the volunteers. Participants also were asked to try to keep it down a little - pre-medical students were taking the MCAT in the social sciences building.

After a short chant -"UMBC! UMBC!"- the group began firing.

"Keep shooting!" Lagorio yelled as he and junior Kristi McDurmon, another organizer, kept time on a stopwatch. "Keep squirting! Refill! Refill!"

When the time was up, Lagorio blared: "We officially have the world's record for the largest water-gun fight. Thank you. The water-gun fight's a free-for all now!"

The big winner, organizers say, was UMBC. On a campus where half the student body commutes and construction has until recently been a fact of life, First Year Council members hope the event will usher in a new reputation for record-breaking social events.

"Our school isn't even 50 years old," McDurmon said. "So everything we do now is creating history."

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