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Playing to prove a point

UAS uses root beer pong to teach lesson on drinking dangers

Posted: March 11, 2012 - 12:08am
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Athena Merculief, left, and Haley Hanzawa celebrate making a shot in the root beer pong tournament at the UAS Recreation Center on Thursday evening. The event informed students about safe drinking tips and the effect drinking games have on their bodies.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Athena Merculief, left, and Haley Hanzawa celebrate making a shot in the root beer pong tournament at the UAS Recreation Center on Thursday evening. The event informed students about safe drinking tips and the effect drinking games have on their bodies.

Students at the University of Alaska Southeast bounced ping-pong balls across tables into plastic cups — filled with water — simulating a popular drinking game called beer pong.

Drinking games are widely popular at college parties and beer pong has morphed into something that is quite possibly a national favorite (there's even a World Series of Beer Pong). UAS took the opportunity to turn what can be a dangerous method of binge drinking into a lesson on responsible drinking.

The university’s Student Activities Board hosted a root beer pong Tournament on Thursday — mixing in trivia about the dangers of alcohol and a quick discussion on drinking games.

For those who haven’t been to college in the last couple decades — or skipped the party scene — beer pong turns drinking into a competition.

Envision a room blasting out with music, a ping-pong table (or really any table of comparable size will do), and a table full of beer cups. The more basic version of the game goes like this: Ten cups are placed on each side of the table in the formation of bowling pins. They are generally filled with beer (hence the name). Players typically either play 1-on-1 or 2-on-2. They take turns trying to throw a ping-pong ball into the opponents’ cups — either by a direct shot or by bouncing it off the table. If it lands in the cup, the other side drinks it. All of it. Some versions allow for the opposing team to goaltend their cups — such as if the opponent uses the bounce method, but not the direct-shot method. The game can vary in complexity and spiced up rules.

UAS’ root beer version was partially developed by students. It featured extras like extra drinks if a tosser calls his or her shot, or if the second team member sinks a ball in the same cup his teammate just landed one into after calling “leave it,” the other team would take three drinks.

UAS’ event put more of an emphasis on the actual game by providing root beer (or Tang) as a group of nearly 30 students in teams of two turned up to test out their pong skills. Teams formed with a variety of names: The Fellowship of the Cup, The Order of the Green Lotus, The Brownies, XtraTUFFS, Nihonjin, Something, The Giants, Rob and Big, Mile High, Team ‘A’ and a few others.

“Water is in these cups right now,” said Tara Olson, activities director. “Just leave it, your guys’ hands will be in it, it will be gross. This is not actual pong, we’re not trying to get you guys drunk. So sip at your own leisure.”

After a round of teams was eliminated, Olson paused the game to ask alcohol-related trivia. “What is the rate that the body metabolizes alcohol?” One standard drink per hour. “What constitutes a standard drink?” 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of hard alcohol, depending upon the proof of the alcohol, wine 4 to 6 ounces, beer 8 to 12 ounces.

“Unresponsiveness, blackouts, cold clammy skin and vomiting are signs of?” Alcohol poisoning. Olson emphasized if students see someone exhibiting even some of these signs, they should call 911 and get their friend immediate medical help. “What is the one-hour block of time on Friday and Saturday nights in the U.S. that accounts for 46 percent of fatal crashes?” Midnight to 1 a.m.

Olson’s trivia featured those questions and many more — most about how the body reacts to alcohol and why it can be dangerous.

The top two students who answered correctly got a $5 gift card to Fred Meyer, and the top team in the tournament received a $15 card.

Danielle Torrence, a sophomore, said she came to the event with her boyfriend because they really enjoy beer pong. She said they play it about every weekend or every other.

“It’s the competition and, yeah, the feeling when you win,” Torrence said. “I think the trivia thing they did was pretty good. I think it makes it more about the game and less about the drinking because there is no alcohol here.”

Joe Lewis, a freshman, said he has played beer pong but not very often. He came to the event because it was something he had done before, but a little different.

“It’s going pretty well, I got taken out unfortunately in a match that should have been a finalist,” Lewis said. “If that sounds bitter, it probably should. It’s good for everybody to know basic alcohol awareness. This is stuff that will probably happen if you go to a college party.”

Lewis said the trivia information is nice to know and he would probably find it useful.

“We really try to get unique, fun events for students to come to,” Olson said. “So if they hear that we’re playing beer pong or a trivia game with prizes, they are more likely to come than if they hear we have a speaker coming to talk about the dangers of alcohol. Drinking games are obviously a dangerous activity for students to participate in. It’s just really popular among college students so we knew we could get college students to come.”

Olson said the student turnout was pretty decent considering it was an event with a responsible drinking message. She said past events that have addressed the topic in some way got about 10-15 students to participate.

Olson said each of the students who attended will take something with them — either a fact about how to respond to a friend with signs of alcohol poisoning or about how to make beer pong less dangerous to play — and are likely to share it with others.

UAS is not a dry campus, and students of legal drinking age are allowed to have alcohol in their apartments.

“It’s always a concern for college students,” Olson said of student drinking. “There are always issues in student housing with drinking, there are always issues with students off-campus drinking, so this is something we try to address on a regular basis.”

Olson told the students it is considered binge drinking to have five or more drinks in one sitting for males, and four or more standard drinks in that time period for females. She asked them to think about how many drinks they would consume in a normal evening playing this game.

“Chances are you had alcohol poisoning,” she said. “Think about ways to reduce how much you’re drinking during drinking games.”

Students suggested they could mix what’s in the cups with juice or water it down, they could fill the glasses less full, alternating with a non-alcoholic drink or drink something else entirely.

“If you choose to participate in a drinking game, just remember it is considered binge drinking,” Olson said. “It is a dangerous option on your part.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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