Red Ball Matches
It was a Styrofoam ball—about the size of a golf ball—painted red. Anything it touched bore the telltale signs of red paint residue. But the ball was never meant for sport or to be held in one’s hands. It was a mid-1960s promotion of the Atlantic Richfield Company —a symbol of their “Red Ball Service.” Pulling into an Atlantic Richfield—or ARCO gas station—an attendant filled the tank, cleaned the car’s windows, checked the oil, checked the tires (yes, gas station attendants actually did all of these things), and, to signify you had indeed received Red Ball Service, slid the red Styrofoam ball onto your antenna (when antennas were not retractable).
But the Red Ball would carry a far different meaning and a much greater significance for a small band of students from the Class of ’69. The legend of the Red Ball would grow, becoming an iconic chapter in Pitt Law lore. Indeed, this little Red Ball would take its own place in Law School history—with one page dedicated to the infamous Red Ball in the only written history of the Law School, The Law Down, written by former Pitt Law Dean Ed Sell.
Call them Red Ball matches, if you will. The Law School, then residing on the 13–15 floors of the Cathedral of Learning, had large, lecture halls filled with long wooden benches and long wooden desks. Several students decided to convert one of these classrooms into a makeshift handball court, playing a form of handball as they used their hands to hit the Red Ball against the white, classroom walls. The game soon evolved into doubles, with an agreed-upon set of rules and even a lines-keeper.
One fateful evening several members of the Class of ’69, among them Harry Gruener and Frank Yourick were playing a game of Red Ball. The designated “lines-keeper,” in an attempt to get the best possible view, sat in a Wimbledon-like pose some 10 feet in the air on a chair precariously perched atop one of the long medieval-looking wooden classroom benches—wildly waving his hands as he called the “ins” and “outs” of the game. It was at that moment that Dean Ed Sell walked in, mouth agape, attempting to process the scene before him.
“There we were, playing a rousing game of Red Ball, hitting the Red Ball against the freshly painted white walls of this Cathedral of Learning classroom,” said former Red Ball participant Harry Gruener. “And each time the Red Ball hit the wall, it left a little red dot behind. So there, on this huge expanse of white wall, were thousands of little red dots—looking a bit like it had a case of chickenpox. The look on Dean Sell’s face said it all.”
Needless to say, the Red Ball matches were no longer played against the white wall of the 15th floor classroom. The Red Ball enthusiasts simply moved to the 13th floor. And there the matches evolved into a form of pingpong.
Yes, the Red Ball enthusiasts were undeterred by their setbacks and began to play across a large wooden desk, enjoying “a much superior game,” as former Red Ball devotee Frank Yourick recalled.
“One night I, known as ‘The Hammer’ in this game, was in a match with fellow classmate Ted Brooks, known as ‘The Retriever,’ when Brooks careened into the glass classroom door in a failed attempt to ‘retrieve’ a perfect shot, shattering the full length glass portion of the door. We spent the next several hours scouring the Cathedral of Learning for a replacement door. We unhinged a door from an eighth floor classroom, installing it on the 13th floor. It was now the middle of the night as we finished our ‘installation,’ only to realize that this new 13th floor classroom door bore the classroom number 830. We knew the Red Ball matches were over and Associate Dean Tom White confirmed that with us the next day.”
A number of Red Ball aficionados got together recently for a reunion of sorts, many of whom had not seen each other since law school. They included Class of ’69 members Harry Gruener, Clinical Professor of Law at Pitt Law and partner at Goldberg, Gruener, Gentile, Horoho, & Avalli, P.C.; Frank Yourick of Frank E. Yourick & Associates; Ted Brooks of Tucker Arensberg, P.C.; Wayne DeLuca of Eddy Osterman & DeLuca; Bill Johnson, practicing in Washington County; Gerry Marcovsky; Rob Murray and Rick Davis. They share a common legacy, this appreciation of the Red Ball. A legacy that will now be forever memorialized as the Red Ball is enshrined within the School’s first floor Alumni Case.
And, so, there you have it—the short but infamous history of the Red Ball at Pitt Law.