The Backdraw: Where everyone gets a second chance

Yishi Liang, Editor-in-Chief
liangyis@grinnell.edu

Life doesn’t always give you second chances, but the Backdraw will. And a third, fourth and fifth chance, too. Located at 1226 Sixth Avenue, the Backdraw houses Tracy Johnson, CJ Ray, Ameer Shujjah and honorary resident, Bryson Cale (all ’16).
Being the home of three and a half tennis players, the name derives from a tennis term, which are the matches for players who have lost in the first round of the tournament.

“We wanted to create this vibe where we’re more about having fun because the main draw is more serious, you’re trying to win, going for the glory,” Ray explained. “Backdraw is a more casual vibe. You’re in it for the fun. You already lost. You’re just chilling.”

“Plus everyone gets a second chance,” Shujjah added.

Because of their accommodating nature, the friends sometimes informally consider their house a weekly second chance Harris. Their first year teammates have proven to be more than accepting of this. Ray cited Zach Lane and Hunter Antonisse (both ’19) in particular for their enthusiasm.

“Some of [the first-years] have slept here more nights than Bryson,” Johnson said.

Cale formerly resided in the house, but due to some breathing problems he opted to move back on campus. He is hoping to return to the house in the wintertime. Cale and his car are greatly missed by his former housemates.

“He’s a very good guy. He lets everyone borrow his car. He’s so down to chill,” Ray said of his teammate. “Down for a fun time, always down for jokes, always talking tennis.”

From left: Teammates Bryson Cale, Ameer Shujjah, Tracy Johnson, and CJ Ray (all ’16) in front of the Pakistani flag. (Photo by Tela Ebersole)

From left: Teammates Bryson Cale, Ameer Shujjah, Tracy Johnson, and CJ Ray (all ’16) in front of the Pakistani flag. (Photo by Tela Ebersole)

In addition to his car and jokes, Cale offers many other amenities to the home. Last weekend, he concocted his own version of Four Loko, the remnants of which could still be found in the solo cups that covered their living room table.

According to Johnson, however, their activities are not limited to the four walls of the house. The housemates are especially fond of their backyard and use it to partake in regular games of ladder ball.

“There’s a scoring system, but the drinking system is unrelated. If you miss, you drink. You make, you drink,” Ray explained. “Everyone wins, really.”

Aside from their love of beverages and sport, the members of the Backdraw can often be overheard having meaningful political and philosophical discussions. When they are in doubt about a topic, they turn to Alexa, Shujjah’s Amazon Echo, which is a voice-operated device similar to Apple’s Siri, though it is not connected to a cell phone.

When asked the location of Jerusalem, Alexa replied saying Israel, a controversial answer for those who recognize Palestinian sovereignty. Shujjah acknowledges Alexa’s shortcomings in this regard but given Shujjah’s love of music and Alexa’s convenient voice-operating system, he has been able to overlook this.

“The only noise complaints we get now are when CJ wants Ameer to turn it down to conversation level,” Johnson said. “Because we’ll be getting into a good part of the philosophy, and Ameer’s just blasting Pitbull.”

These discussions are not limited to the members of the house. The Backdraw welcomes all to participate.

“I love the Backdraw,” said Beau Bressler ’16, from the kitchen where he was confined during the course of this interview. “I like coming here and having deep conversations with CJ and company.”

Bressler also likes coming to the Backdraw to do his laundry, but the members of the house are more than happy to have him as well as anyone else going through a tough time.

“You get a D on a midterm, we talk about it … We can help you out … One of the freshmen loses a tough match, here, we give you a second chance … to win the match, or give you advice or just console you,” Ray said.

The ultimate goal of the Backdraw is to provide a safe, welcoming space to those needing a second chance. What that second chance entails is fluid and unique to the person in need.

“You can define success however you want,” Johnson said.