The balloon shot heard round the world

By: Seth Culp-Ressler | The Duquesne Duke

Soggy shenanigans were plentiful this past weekend at the third annual Great American Water Balloon Fight. Benefitting Team Tassy, an organization working to end poverty in Haiti, the fight transformed Schenley Plaza into a battlefield of aqueous missiles where no one was safe from a good old-fashioned soaking.

Vivien Luk, executive director of Team Tassy, explained that Ian Rosenberger founded the organization in 2010 after traveling to Haiti following a devastating earthquake, all with hopes of helping those affected. On the trip, Rosenberger met a Haitian boy named Tassy, who had a life-threatening tumor on his face.

Rosenberger, unsure of what to do, agreed to help Tassy. This promise ultimately led Tassy to travel to Pittsburgh for surgery that would eventually cure him of his ailment. It was Rosenberger’s return with Tassy to Haiti that made him realize that Tassy’s issues were more than medical — they were societal. He faced a life of nearly insurmountable poverty. Thus, Rosenberger realized something had to be done. Team Tassy was born.

“Team Tassy is an organization whose mission is to unleash the inherent power in every person and eliminate global poverty,” Luk said. “We do that by preparing and placing people into jobs. We think that poverty is an epidemic and that jobs are the cure.”

A participant gets caught in the line of fire during the Great American Water Balloon Fight on Saturday. The event benefits the non-profit organization Team Tassy, which fights global poverty.
A participant gets caught in the line of fire during the Great American Water Balloon Fight on Saturday. The event benefits the non-profit organization Team Tassy, which fights global poverty.

So how does a giant water balloon fight fit into this? Luk said that brainstorming an idea for an annual fundraiser was focused on capturing joy, and what better for that than throwing some water balloons at another person? It’s an activity that transcends age, race and gender, it seemed like the obvious fit.

Saturday morning, Schenley Plaza looked a tad more colorful than usual, with pillars of multicolored helium balloons dotted around the grounds and a circular array of water balloons arranged on the field. The sheer magnitude of the operation was a sight to behold, with nearly 50,000 balloons being so voluminous that a 53’ long semi-trailer was needed to truck them all in. A fire-line of participants and volunteers were prepared to disperse them among the combat zone.

The few hundred participants made up four teams — red, yellow, green and blue — all with their own predetermined quadrants of the field. The fight was shaping up to be a good one. Riesa Lirette and Richard Ernsberger, from Robinson and the North Side respectively, had heard about the event on Facebook and decided to give it a shot, especially considering the worthwhile cause it was supporting. In the final minutes before the opening ceremony they both had some tactics planned out.

“Ducking is the key, because I’m pretty tall and everyone else is pretty short,” Ernsberger explained. “So you’ve got to get that duck and sort of roll out of the way of the water balloon. But it also looks a little too compact to do that, so I may be in for a world of getting pelted.”

Lirette had a similar strategy, planning to “go low. I’m short, I’m just going to go low, hit the ankles.”

Before too long Rosenberger, Tassy, Luk and a representative from the Pittsburgh Parks Commission gave the opening speech, after which a photo was taken and each team was sent to their individual areas. A slight hiccup occurred when the red and green teams jumped the gun, but order was restored and the countdown began.

3… 2… 1… Chaos. Complete, unadulterated chaos.

With trajectories ranging from lofty parabolas to calculated sniper shots, balloons exploded in bursts of color, dousing their targets in the process. The abundant supply of ammo meant the spectacle lasted for more than five minutes. Boundaries between teams slowly broke down as reserves ran low, and eventually the onslaught petered out.

Rachel Anderson, a sophomore Pharmacy major, and Dani Bautista, a sophomore Chemistry major, were part of the Duquesne crew bused out to partake in the event. Reflecting post battle, they both agreed that it was a surprising amount of fun, though not devoid of danger.

“It was kind of rough,” Anderson said. “I got hit in the eye.”

Bautista added that a large problem was that balloons often wouldn’t break upon impact. There were indeed reports of various welts and bruises, cruel reminders that an innocent water balloon fight this was not.

That said, Luk was extremely pleased with the event’s outcome. Energy was high, and that coupled with the central location of this year’s event meant a nice amount of foot traffic was drawn from passing pedestrians. Due in large part to heavy participation by local universities, she said the event built great momentum this year to continue the cause.

“It was great to hear students coming up to us and saying, ‘I didn’t realize that something like this could be a great service project, but it’s probably the most fun I’ve had doing service,’” she said.

Luk wanted to point out that they are looking forward to building Great American Water Balloon Fight clubs at various local universities. She encouraged any interested students to contact Team Tassy at