A Pirate’s Life for Trinity
Swashbucklers organization still centered around camaraderie and fun
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Jeno “Kicker” Kalozdi ’08 still remembers the day he and three friends pitched the idea of the Swashbucklers to Trinity administrators. Kalozdi, Jason Ballengee ’08, Philip Gates ’08, and Patrick Smith ’08 waited patiently for their turn among other groups pursuing an on-campus  residential community. Yet something was off about the group. They wore no blazers. No ties. Not a single button-up shirt could be found among the four of them.

Instead, the group entered their presentation dressed head-to-toe in pirate regalia. Pirate hats fell jauntily over their foreheads and fake swords dangled from their hips.

“We had this meeting with some of the heads of Trinity, and I guess they were a little surprised to see us not in business attire, but in elaborate pirate costumes,” recalls Kalozdi. “Even though we were dressed like buffoons, we gave the pitch completely serious and they loved our style, our concept, and we gained approval.”

It was the fall of 2005 and the Swashbucklers were among a group of campus organizations to incorporate a residential life component into their mission. The Swashbucklers, or “Swashies,” formed as a substance-free community who believed they did not need alcohol or drugs to have a good time.

First housed in McLean Hall, the Swashbucklers came together from different walks of campus life. Kalozdi, a communication major, loved technical theater and hiking. Gates, an engineering science major, was involved with religious life at Trinity and volunteered around San Antonio with the homeless. Ballengee, also engineering science, was active with intramural sports, and Smith, another communication major, enjoyed editing and film. This diverse assortment of founders pictured themselves as a reflection of the Trinity student body. They came from different social groups, yet felt a kinship with one another so strong it compelled them to found a living-learning community.

“The hall was about getting a big group of friends together, having fun, and making the most of the community,” says Ballengee, now a research engineer with PepsiCo, Inc. His motivation to found Swashbucklers was more about the people than the substance-free component.

But for Gates, the hall signified a “real desire to embrace everything the college experience could be without hampering it with the use of substance.” Gates came to Trinity from Shreveport, La., and participated in The Plunge, a religiously-affiliated week of service organized by University Chaplain Stephen Nickle. Gates’ participation in The Plunge emphasized that he did not need alcohol to make a difference or have a good time. The connections he forged with friends – those were the important part.

“A lot of the themes of the Swashbuckler community came out of an active groups of students involved in each other’s lives, uplifting relationships, and an involvement in the campus and San Antonio communities,” says Gates, an engineer with CVAL Innovations.

Depending on the Swashbuckler, the organization’s substance-free status weighed differently in their decision to join the hall. For some, it was an escape from a substance-heavy culture. Yet for others, it was simply a desire to live unperturbed by the presence of alcohol or drugs. Members were not necessarily against substances—just on their residence hall. They wanted events where people were the focus, where memories could be remembered.

In the group’s early years, events ranged from midnight games of capture-the-flag and hallway games of dodgeball to storming Wal-Mart with 100 people in search of pirate gear. A favorite event for Kalozdi was always the Thanksgiving Feast, where Swashbucklers would donate their extra meal plan dollars to sponsor one massive meal.

“I’m from New Orleans, and I wouldn’t go home for Thanksgiving,” says Kalozdi, founder of DamnDog bags. “We put together all of the tables in Mabee and had over 90 people sitting at one table. It was just glorious. It was really special to have a meal with so many people who now have become my lifelong friends.”

These days, a focus on people is still paramount for the club. Ryun Howe ’18, a Swashie and music performance major from Richardson, Texas, says Swashbucklers recruitment today is all about accruing more friends. Howe is a newly minted admiral, the honorary rank bestowed on former Swashbuckler captains. In true maritime fashion, three captains lead the club each year and split their responsibilities evenly. Elections are held every February.

Howe joined Swashbucklers after a fellow member of the Trinity Symphony Orchestra told him about the club. Yet he remembers an instance in his first-year seminar when classmates joked about a Swashbuckler purity pledge and the club being a bunch of “dweebs.” Howe, who stayed silent at the time, now encourages Swashbucklers to counter the misconception of club members as a bunch of prudish geeks.

“I joined up for the social aspect,” says Howe. “Swashbucklers is an environment that is able to achieve some really good things. The most important thing on hall is the social atmosphere and being with so many friends and understanding people.”

This past October, Howe organized the annual Swashbuckler Haunted Hall, a Halloween maze that snakes through Myrtle Hall where the Swashies live. On one tour he led, participants were so scared they ripped his jacket. Hall members start preparations as early as August and, nautical pun intended, it takes all hands on deck to pull off the event.

Haunted Hall is just one outreach mechanism, an event Howe sees as a gift back to the campus. Charming in his exuberance for the club, Howe admits he might not have stayed at Trinity if it were not for the Swashbucklers.

“I treasure my time as a captain a lot, mostly because there is an ability to give back to a hall that gave a lot to me,” Howe says. “I have always just loved being around.”

Fellow admiral Bennett Carter ’17 echoes Howe’s love for the organization.

“Swashbucklers is an amazing place we all consider home,” Carter says. “Being on the hall has meant everything to me. People talk about college being the best years of your life, and it’s here that I have made so many friends and come into my own as a person.”

A math major from Houston, Carter didn’t always feel this way. As a first-year he was skeptical of the club and its rules. Yet over time he organically befriended Swashbucklers and spent more and more time on hall.

It wasn’t until just before fall finals that admiral Dayton King ’15 texted him to come over to the Swashbucklers hall. He had a question. A Swashie had transferred from Trinity earlier that semester and they were looking to complete the room. Carter had spent so much time on hall that a joke door sign read, “Sometimes Bennett.” King turned to Carter and asked, “Why don’t we make that say always?’”

Carter moved to the hall a few days later.

“One of my favorite memories is that initial moment when I was asked to be on the hall, just because I had never felt so wanted,” says Carter.

Like Kalozdi, Carter fancies himself as an agitator of hall “shenanigans.” A lounge culture permeates the Swashbucklers, with members spontaneously gathering in the hall’s common room for games or hangout sessions.

Admiral Madilyn Pflueger ’17, an English major from Austin, joined the hall in search of a quieter living space. After joining Swashbucklers, she quickly realized her affinity for the club was more about its members than being part of a substance-free hall. She enjoyed her time so much that she decided to run for captain. New captains are chosen by sitting captains based on what they’ve observed about that person’s membership.

“Swashbucklers is substance-free housing, but also a community,” says Pflueger. “We are all friends who have found that fit on a college campus.”

Pflueger says there are Swashbucklers who drink, but know not to be disruptive when returning to the hall. She has a “live and let live” motto when it comes to non-Swashies events. Each Swashie seems to have his or her own views on substances, but all respect the hall and their peers enough that the organization has preserved its core roots even 11 years after its founding.

The pirate theme? A fun bonus, say hall members, who rely on a constitution for hall history and related trivia. According to legend, the theme arose from the popularity of Pirates of the Caribbean and Jack Sparrow’s famous line: Why is all the rum gone? The joke, of course, is that there is no rum, or any other spirit, found on the Swashbuckler island. Captains, by law, are required to own a pirate hat, which is passed around during meetings to determine who speaks. Wearing pirate costumes is also a great recruitment tactic, according to Howe.

The founders are a little less certain about their pirate origins. Some say it was a response to the North Hall Ninjas and a rivalry between the two halls. Gates says the movie Hook was an influence and the club adopted the call “bangerang!” from the film. Kalozdi says the pirate theme was chosen simply because it felt fun. Whatever the reason, it has remained the trademark of the Swashbucklers club.  

For outsiders, it’s a somewhat perplexing organization. Do all Swashbucklers hate alcohol? Are they afraid of what happens if they drink? What is with those pirate hats? For Swashbucklers, it’s a lot simpler than all that. They are a group of friends who love spending time with one another and reveling in the spontaneity of college life. Substance-free and fun—that’s the Swashie way.

Carlos Anchondo '14 is an oil and gas reporter for E&E News, based in Washington D.C. A communication and international studies major at Trinity, he received his master's degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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