The world's biggest water balloon fight at the University of Kentucky campus is often described as the craziest 10 minutes you'll ever experience.
That's because 10 minutes is all it takes for thousands of people to bombard each other with about 150,000 balloons holding something like 20,000 gallons of water.
Those fleeting moments are the culmination of months of work put in by hundreds of volunteers organized by the Christian Student Fellowship at UK. In between the ministry's spiritual teaching and community service, CSF has broken the record for the world's largest water balloon fight twice.
The group set the record in 2009 and believes it earned the title once again at last year's sopping melee on Johnson Center Field, near Commonwealth Stadium.
It should be noted that the record is under dispute. It's unclear whether last year's fight has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, or whether the record is still officially held by Brigham Young University, where 4,000 people heaved 120,000 balloons in July 2010.
A BYU student newspaper has conceded the title, and there is no doubt at CSF. "Ours was bigger than theirs," staff member Olivia Gardner said. "We have all the documentation, but it's just a matter of getting it through Guinness."
Either way, CSF's goal for Friday is to deliver at least 153,498 water balloons to the field — one more than last year — and gather more people than last year's 5,976.
By Thursday, 154,000 balloons were ready to launch. To accommodate premature breakage, Gardner said volunteers hope to fill 200,000 to 250,000.
Preparation for this year's event began months ago; the first balloon was filled in early June.
Most of the balloons have been filled at CSF headquarters, at the corner of Woodland and Columbia avenues. On any given night, you would find a few dozen volunteers manning filling stations — garden hoses attached to lengths of PVC pipe with eight nozzles apiece.
Standing elbow-to-elbow, volunteers worked in five-hour shifts, mostly during the night.
Efficiency is the name of the game, said Taylor "Tater" Cunningham, a CSF student leader. When there are more volunteers than nozzles, a filler "hands the balloon off to someone else who ties it, so production is a little faster," he said.
Since move-in day at UK last week, a single shift typically produced 15,000 to 20,000 water balloons, depending on how many people show up, Cunningham said. Summer totals were less, but CSF had additional help from members of Southland Christian Church in Lexington and Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Gardner said.
Filling the balloons is as much fun as it is work, volunteers say, exemplified by the scene at a filling party Wednesday night. A water balloon flew through the air and landed squarely on the head of an already-wet volunteer who barely flinched. "It had a hole in it," the tosser shouted.
That's why Cunningham, wearing a pair of athletic shorts and flip-flops, recommended against wearing good clothes to the filling parties.
"If it's a good water balloon, you don't throw it, but if you're filling it up and water is leaking out, you have every right just to chuck it," he said.
Volunteers deposited full balloons in garbage bags (each bag holds about 50). Throughout each shift, the bags were layered gently into the backs of pickup trucks and hauled to the basements of anyone willing to loan the space.
"They stay in basements all across Lexington," Gardner said. "People have been really gracious about it."
About 5:30 p.m. Friday, convoys of pickup trucks will gather the balloons and haul them to Johnson Center Field, where about 200 student volunteers will line them up on the field. As they are removed from the bags, community leaders such as pastors and businesspeople will count each balloon using handheld mechanical counters.
Anyone who wants to participate — students and non-students alike — is invited to show up at the field at about 11:55 p.m. Friday. The fight begins at midnight.
Even if a new record isn't set, it's guaranteed to be a chaotic good time.
"It will be a war zone," said freshman volunteer Taylor Pauley, who participated in last year's battle. "You've got water balloons coming at you from every direction possible. It's such a crazy experience."