Naval Battle

Let The Boys Play

Written by Dietrich Balsbaugh

I shall gain glory or die.


Walk into just about any men’s dormitory on campus, and you are sure to see a few odds and ends lying around. Like that in the corner over there. What is it? You pick it up. It’s a three-foot pvc pipe that has been wrapped extensively in foam and held together entirely with classic duct tape. It has a little bit of heft to it but not so it’s unwieldy. You give it a little swing, hmm… could do some damage…

A freshman wanders by in a little bit of a hurry. “Where are you going?” you ask. He turns and addresses you while still moving. “Naval Battle is tomorrow. Gotta get the boats ready.”

As he hustles off into the deep recesses of the dorm, you decide to follow, and eventually find yourself in one of the lobbies. Couches are pushed against the wall, cardboard is everywhere, “Pirates of the Caribbean” blasts from a nearby speaker, and roughly twenty dorm residents are scattered about constructing crude cardboard boats for the highly anticipated battle the next morning.

At Hillsdale, there are plenty of opportunities to experience themes from your classes. You can study in Washington, D.C., or you can watch students perform Shakespeare in the Arb. But have you ever wondered what it was like to be inside Homer’s Iliad? Look no further than what the men of Hillsdale affectionately refer to as “raid culture.”

Complete with a complex system of unwritten rules, tactical maneuvers, and even an elected bard and historian, raid culture is an easy way for guys to get some energy out when studies get tough, and have fun while doing it. The Naval Battle is no exception to this. The gathered dorms assemble on their respective sides of Baw Beese Lake and then charge into the water to plant their flag on the opposite shore. Fighting in the shallows is intense, but not unfriendly, as these are the primary defensive locations while in the deeps. The boats, propelled and manned by pure adrenaline, steadily chug toward their goal.

Much like the homeric legends of old, battles turn into many individual skirmishes, with residents challenging each other, often resulting in a short wrestling/sword-fighting duel. In the meantime, the bard runs to and fro, documenting the showings of Kleos (Greek word for Glory) throughout the battle. Every now and then two Resident Assistants of opposing dorms will face off, surrounded by cheers and jeers from both sides. It’s not just a matter of pride, it’s a matter of eternal glory. There are winners and losers on both sides, and heroes are born in the shallows of lake Baw Beese.

While it may seem intense, the “raid culture” of the men’s dormitories is an expression of the utmost respect for the community of men on campus, always reflecting the honor code, particularly “Honorable in conduct.” The men fight nobly, win gloriously, deepen friendships, and ultimately feast together as brothers, stripping their sleeves to say, “We few, we happy few. These wounds I had, on the Naval Battle day…”

Dietrich BalsbaughDietrich Balsbaugh, ’20, studies English and mathematics. He loves dancing of any kind and playing in any sort of water, particularly if it involves skipping rocks. If you see him on campus, he’s usually talking about fractals, writing, or tossing a frisbee. He doesn’t mind, so be sure to stop and ask him what he’s thinking about.

Published in February 2019