More than 50 Rhode Island School of Design and Brown students squeezed into a yellow school bus Thursday night, doubling and tripling up in seats. They wore sweats and athletic shorts and carried training and drawstring bags. It was dark outside, and cars were scarce on the corner of North Main and College streets, where the bus was parked.
The students were preparing for Midnight Soccer, a RISD club that buses around 80 RISD and Brown students each Thursday night to Teamworks Warwick, an indoor soccer facility 15 minutes away from College Hill. The group plays small-sided games on the facility’s three turf fields from 10:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. Friday morning.
“It’s such a surreal experience,” said Rahul Badoni, a RISD student and one of Midnight Soccer’s organizers. “When you start playing, it’s like you don’t know what time it is. It’s like you’re in this severe trance.”
While the skill level “gets pretty good,” players of all abilities are welcome at Midnight Soccer, Badoni said.
“Sometimes it is a little intimidating,” said Eliza Goodwin, another RISD student. “But I get to wake up tomorrow morning and be like, ‘damn, five hours ago I was playing soccer.’” Goodwin, who said she played “a little bit” of soccer in high school, joined Midnight Soccer a handful of times last spring and played her first games of the fall last Thursday.
The captains make an “excellent effort” to emphasize the inclusivity of the club, said Janek Schaller ’24, who has been attending Midnight Soccer since last fall. Despite this, some of his friends who “really aren’t into soccer often find themselves overwhelmed or taken aback by the kind of competitiveness,” he said.
At 10:30 p.m., students began warming up on the fields by passing balls to each other in a circle, while the captains sorted dozens of pinnies by color. At 10:45, every participant lined up on the field, nearly 90 people total. Students who missed the bus either Ubered or got rides from other participants.
“Don’t take it too seriously,” Badoni reminded everyone. Players were sorted into nine teams to play 15-minute games rotating across the three fields.
Badoni said he had participated in Midnight Soccer before the COVID-19 pandemic — the club dates back to 2007, he said, though it has stopped and restarted operations a few times. Previously, the club started at midnight and reserved only two fields at the Warwick facility. It was “way more intense,” he said.
Last fall, Badoni and Rubelcy Herrera, another RISD student, began to help with the club’s administration during a “massive rebranding,” which involved the club starting earlier and increasing accessibility to Brown students and people of lower skill levels.
Attendance has skyrocketed since last year, Badoni said, jumping from around 40 students in fall 2021 to 60 in the spring. And this fall, over 80 students have attended — more than half of which are Brown students.
“We’re anticipating larger numbers at this point, and we’re trying to just find the best way to work with them,” Badoni said.
Starting last fall, Badoni and Herrera have increased their focus on the community aspect of Midnight Soccer, reminding players at the beginning of each session not to play too intensely.
“The idea of it was always to make sure that if there was competitiveness, … to slowly tone it down a little, and just recognize the sport as being a very beautiful communication between people,” Badoni said.
The few times she went to Midnight Soccer last year, Goodwin said “a few people started getting hurt,” which led her to stop attending. Brown students must fill out a liability waiver before attending Midnight Soccer sessions, releasing RISD from responsibility for any damage or injury to a person or property.
“I have definitely seen a kind of trend toward more competitive, more intense soccer at Midnight over the past year,” Schaller said.
Captains “have encouraged people to step off the gas a little bit,” said Isaac Slevin ’25, who has attended Midnight Soccer sessions since the spring. “They know the space they’re trying to create. … It's not a space to just completely let loose.”
In one game last Thursday, the gray team, headed by Slevin, faced off against Badoni’s team in orange. With the game tied, Slevin, playing in goal, jumped to his right and knocked the ball away with his palm, making a key save. At midnight, an egg timer went off. A member of the orange team faced off with Slevin at center field and won the game — in a round of rock-paper-scissors.
At 1:15 a.m., 50 sweaty students were back on the bus, its windows fogging up. Hererra stood at the front and gave a Midnight Soccer jersey to a RISD first-year, thanking them for their enthusiasm that night. “You guys are the future of Midnight Soccer,” he said. “Thanks for being here.”
The club’s captains give out a jersey at the end of each night to an individual who helped out, either in running the session or with someone injured — “basically to the best human being,” Badoni said.
Both Badoni and Schaller spoke to the unity cultivated between Brown and RISD on Thursday nights. But the “crazy” part, Badoni said, is playing with other RISD students he never would have expected to play soccer.
Seeing those students the next day, “there’s … an acknowledgment from the other side of the room,” Badoni said.
“This space is special,” Slevin said. “Nothing I do here pertains to anything else that’s stressful in my life. And so basically at the end of the week, I get to put away all of my schoolwork, all of the outside-of-school things that stress me out and just play soccer.”
Correction: A previous version of this story contained misspellings of Rahul Badoni's last name. This story has also been updated to make clear that Badoni and Rubelcy Herrera did not initiate the club's rebranding. The Herald regrets the errors.
Haley Sandlow is a section editor covering science and research as well as admissions and financial aid. She is a sophomore from Chicago, Illinois studying English and French.