Magazine article Risk Management

The Battle of Red Square

Magazine article Risk Management

The Battle of Red Square

Article excerpt

A big part of my college experience was being in a fraternity. At my alma mater, Washington & Lee University, there were 16 fraternities for a male student body of only about 800, and nearly everybody was in one house or another. My fraternity, Sigma Nu, had a house adjacent to four other fraternity houses--Phi Kappa Sigma, Beta Theta Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha and Phi Gamma Delta. Since all of our houses were made of red brick and took up about a whole city block, that part of town was known as Red Square.

Life in Red Square was pretty interesting, in part because there had been a lot of brawling and vandalism among the houses, particularly between my house and its immediate neighbors, Phi Kappa Sigma and Phi Gamma Delta. For my first three years, though, I never saw anything to suggest that the houses couldn't be friends. Personally, I had buddies all over Red Square, and the thought of getting into a fight with any of them struck me as rather alien. And yet, a strange air of mutual suspicion hung over the Square.

One winter day in my senior year, as the town recovered from a recent snowstorm, my friend Heath and I stood on the side yard of our house having a chat. As we did, I looked across the street at the Phi Delt house and saw two of its brothers on the front porch. One of them was a friend of mine named Wade, and in a fit of mischief, I packed a snowball and threw it at him. As I did, Heath arched an eyebrow at me, suggesting I think twice about it. After all, something like this could turn ugly. Heath was right, too, but I had a feeling that Wade would take the snowball in the spirit in which it was meant. I was sure that things in Red Square weren't like the old days, but there was no way of knowing without opening fire.

I didn't hit Wade, but I came close enough for him and his brother to return fire at me and Heath. Pretty soon, the four of us were lobbing snowballs across the street at each other without much real hope of hitting anything. It didn't take long for more Sigma Nus and Phi Delts to join the battle as they came home from classes, and within an hour, we had a pretty big snowball fight on our hands as brothers from every Red Square house got involved. …

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