“Ready, Aim, fire: It’s dodgeball for grown-ups”
By Tina Satter
The non-athletic late bloomers and others who hated gym class might want to avoid McMenamin’s Kennedy School on Monday nights. Anyone retaining residual psychological scars from Phys Ed Dodgeball is likely to have a negative reaction to the sounds of slamming balls and squeaking sneakers that rigng out from the facility’s gymnasium.
On the other hand, if a rubber ball hurling toward you is exciting – and you are 21 years old or older – then lace up your sneakers, put on your game face, and get ready to travel back in time.
Colleen Finn and her rowdy cohorts from the Northwest Kickball league got bored when the wet weather hit last fall and organized Portland Adult co-ed dodgeball, which wraps up its debut season Monday with the league championship. With a roster of eight teams, a snazzy web site and high-ed team T-shirts., the league is serious about having fun.
Dodgeball player Meg Valas, a 26 – year-old office manager, loves the intensity. “People aren’t messing around out there,”’ she says, “which makes it more fun than you’d expect from a grade school sport as an adult.”
For many, dodgeball – also known as Bombardment or Prison Ball – was an elementary school nightmare in which bullies essentially had the sanctioning of adults to play out recess politics with a whizzing rubber ball. Most schools no longer allow it at recess, and definitely not in gym class. But when transferred to an adult context, it becomes at once fiercely competitive and full of laughter.
Guffawing the hardest at hits to the gut or daredevil moves is 25-year-old Finn, a former Division I field hockey goalie who has become the local czarina of alternative sports. Finn started Portland’s adult kickball league last June and is at the heart of its dodgeball offshoot. Several of the kickball teams transferred their entire roster to the dodgeball court.
Teams can have up to 20 players; 10 players take a side at a time and at least three women and three men must be in place at the start of each game. Chaos reigns.
In a basic breakdown, the home team gets five balls and the visitors get four. Each team has one side of the gym, divided by a center-line.
The players hurl the 6-inch rubber coated Rhino Skin balls in attempts to hit players on the other team, ostensibly from the shoulders down. If you’re hit, you’re off the court. If you hit someone in the head, you’re off the court. The first team to eliminate all opposing players is declared winner. The teams in each match up play “as many games as they can in half-hour slots
Finn has adapted some rules to the space at the Kennedy School. For instance there are basketball nets at each end of the gym. If a team has only one person left on the court, that person can try to sing a ball in the other team’s basket; if successful, their bench is back on the court.
The refereeing is fairly casual. Usually Finn or another player who isn’t in the current match will stand to the side of the center court. If tension begins to build over whether there was fair ball block or not, the ref will shout, “It’s just dodgeball!”
Despite the lighthearted concept of adults playing a child’s game, the matches are palpably competitive and athletic. One team, the Wackadoos, left the league because it was “too agro for them” Finn says. “I guess it can be too much for some teams but if can’t stand the heat, get out of the Kennedy.”
Overall, however, the spirit of casual camaraderie set the tone. The post-game wrap-ups happen at the bar, in-jokes rule and participants will play for opponents if enough of their team members don’t show up.
The concept has even gained national attention. After a local Fox affiliate ran a piece on the league, CNN picked it up and beamed the footage with Finn’s commentary nationally.
On Monday, the league ends its season with the semifinals and championship match. Then for Finn and friends it back to kickball and the great outdoors. Valas, captain of the dodgeball team, the Tube Socks, sums up the spirit of both leagues:
“Kickball and dodgeball are great places to meet new people, play fun games and drink a few beers. What more could you want on a week night?”