After a brutally cold winter, it was jarring to be outside in shorts and boat shoes. The temperature was a solid 80 degrees, and on the Busch turf fields on that Saturday afternoon everyone was feeling the heat. But there were no complaints. No “ughs” about the sweat. No regrets if anyone forgot sunscreen. No one wanted to be anywhere else. The new season of Game of Thrones had premiered about a week before, but winter could not have been further away. This was ZBTahiti, the culmination of several week-long philanthropy efforts by the Rutgers University chapter of Zeta Beta Tau, one of the largest social fraternities in the nation. ZBTahiti was a celebration of the good they did. It was time to party.
Outside the Werblin Recreation Center sit two beach volleyball courts that became home base for this early afternoon sports movie. There were three events: tug-o-war, limbo, and a volleyball tournament. No one knew who was competing against who. No one really seemed to care, either.
But they did want to win.
ZBT may have been hosting the event but they weren’t competing. Instead, the top social sororities and club sports teams on campus were invited, and some of the best were representing their group’s colors. It was about half an hour before the day officially began, and everyone was already feeling as sunny as the sky above.
I was setting up equipment when I saw friends. They approached cheerily, fascinated by my DSLRs, tripods, shotgun mics, and shoulder rigs, the latter of which they were not familiar with. “It looks like you’ve got a gun,” a Sigma Kappa sister said to me. “Can I hold it?” It’s hard to say hello to friends with the sun in your eyes, sweat on your forehead, and a camera to squint into. But when your friends want a photo of their team/sorority, you power through it. It makes you feel important.
I was repping my own colors on this afternoon. I was the only brother of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) there, and at that moment I hated myself for wearing dark navy blue and black. The sun was killing me. I was drenched. But I didn’t care.
Before I knew it the day had started. Screams and cheers from sorority and club sports girls pierced my ears and I worried about the sound in my camera. The energy was exhilarating. I was given free rein to be literally anywhere in the event I wanted. Nothing was off limits. So of course I lied down underneath the tug-o-war rope. I felt kind of like Joffries in the events before Rear Window. Before my own health hazard, the shot takes priority.
I survived, and eventually I cornered Ross Teicher, a sophomore and the ZBT brother who spearheaded this spring extravaganza. We were by the DJ booth, a poor choice on my part, but he acted like it was a non-issue.
This year [ZBTahiti] is a three-day long philanthropic event consisting of a food drive, and the activities you see before me today.”
Milliseconds before Ross motioned behind him for my camera to get a shot of said activities, a brother of his made a goofy face at the camera. Ross had no idea.
Ultimately, the goal was to raise money for the local food kitchen, Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, as well as the Children’s Miracle Network, the main philanthropy organization of the national fraternity.
So, what happened during the three days?
On the very first day, all the brothers wear leis over letters … and the goal is for sorority members or any participating organizations … to collect all the lei, and to count as many as they can to win.”
It’s like a scavenger hunt with moving treasure.
The second day is a food drive. Collect as many cans and non-perishable items as possible–we happened to get a lot this year. Teams get points accordingly based on how many items they donate and the proceeds go to Elijah’s Promise.”
That brings us to the third day. “Then, today,” Ross continues, “consists of three events. The first is tug-o-war, which Delta Gamma won.” Behind him, limbo was in session. “Then we culminate into volleyball which is the most exciting event of the day.”
Somewhere in the back of my head arose my training in hard-hitting journalism. I asked him a curve ball. “What does ZBTahiti mean to you?” Ross took a second. Now he was focused.
Last semester I served as philanthropy chair and met an RU 4 Kid for Dance Marathon. His name was Conor. Hearing his story and what his family had to go through, he had cancer, he really inspired me to work harder and to support charities like the Children’s Miracle Network. After having met Conor, I truly understood what ZBTahiti was all about. To donate to these families, to help out with medical and non-medical needs.”
For a moment I was stunned. At the same time, soccer games from local middle and high schools were happening across the street. Families had to walk through ZBTahiti, and I saw in them a little disbelief. College kids in summer were having fun in the sand, and I worried that all they saw were kids partying. They were, but also weren’t. There was a cause behind this. Something noble. I asked Ross if he had any final words. He has two more years left in school and is determined to see ZBT’s philanthropy and ZBTahiti grow. “We hope you enjoy and we look forward to next year.”
At the end of the day I gathered everyone – yes, everyone – for one gigantic group shot. Shout out to my employers for having a 10mm lens. I asked them to shout “ZBTahiti” on the count of three. After three, everyone was cheering. Everyone was smiling. And somewhere, a sick child might be smiling too.
Story and photos by Eric Francisco