Austin American Statesman

Kick, dodge, be a kid again

It’s happening in adult leagues in Austin and elsewhere as kickball and dodgeball turn back the clock.

Excerpt of article by Sarah Frank
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, July 22, 2006

There’s nothing grown-up about it.

The name-calling, the triple-dog dares, the squishy rubber ball that looks like a giant clown’s nose – even the game itself – it’s all child’s play.

And let’s put aside, just for a moment, that all the players actually are grown-ups. (Under the official definition, anyway.)

Like recess for nine-to-fivers, the playground sports of childhood are making a comeback, courting tens of thousands of adults nationwide and hundreds in Austin for after-work leagues.

Once reserved for youngsters, kickball and its slightly violent counterpart dodgeball (both sports have multiple local leagues) are new ways for adults to de-stress and feel like kids again.

“Your inner child will come out when you play these playground games,” said Marc Tucci, 28, who last year started Austin Sports and Social Club, a company that offers kickball and dodgeball as well as several other coed team sports for adults over 21. “You don’t play these games in high school or college, so nobody’s going to be a professional or a superstar. No one’s played since they were 10 years old – everyone’s on the same level.”

Unlike company softball games or corporate golf outings, kickball and dodgeball are nearly impossible to take too seriously. Proof is in the team names: Last Kid Picked, Second to Last, Bacon and several not fit for print. Some leagues allow beer chug-offs to determine which team gets the first kick, while others host postgame trips to the bar.

Most Austin leagues say the number of players increases every season, a trend that mirrors those in other cities – New York, Denver, Indianapolis and Los Angeles.

Christopher Noxon, a Los Angeles-based author who wrote “Rejuvenile,” a book about adults who act like kids, met his wife playing kickball in the mid-’90s and was surprised to find how widespread grown-up playground games have become.

For research, he played with adults in a variety of games – kickball, dodgeball, tag, four square and rock-paper-scissors.

“People have sort of simultaneously, all over the country, without talking to each other, rediscovered this stuff,” he said.

“It’s hard to maintain any irony at all playing these kid games. On one level it’s very ridiculous, but that’s kind of the joy of it, and you get sort of lost in that sixth-grade fun mentality.”

In Austin, players say the goals are the same: get out of the office, relieve some stress and maybe meet some new people.

Picked last no more

If the overwhelming lack of athleticism isn’t the funniest part of kickball, it is probably the players’ fashions.

Chuck Taylor sneakers, neon-colored sweatbands, short shorts, wigs, feather boas, unlit cigarettes dangling from lips.

Ask a grown-up kickballer or dodgeball player what’s better about playing as an adult, and many answer: You can’t get picked last.

For adults who want more intensity in their childlike sports, there’s dodgeball.

Most people remember dodgeball as the gym class staple feared by nerds and adored by bullies. Teams on opposite sides of a basketball court lob cantaloupe-sized rubber balls at each other. Players are sent to the sidelines when hit.

At the Northwest Recreation Center this month, a dozen purple and orange-shirted players spread out and faced off in the at-ready stance of runners. Five yellow rubber balls sat along the half-court line. At the sound of a whistle, players ran to the center.

The fastest players each nabbed a ball, then hesitated to see who would make the first throw.

Eyes shifted back and forth trying to mark the most vulnerable player.

A throw.

Oomph! A catch.

“You’re out!” a purple player yelled to the orange opponent who made the throw.

Then an arsenal of yellow balls flew until two women – one orange, one purple – remained.

Allison East, the purple player, jumped, ducked and contorted her body into a “C” shape to avoid the onslaught of her opponent’s throws, sometimes two at a time. She won the round for her team with a throw that graced the arm of the orange player who remained.

“I’m not as good as I remember being as a kid,” said East, a 28-year-old loan officer who was victorious in the first-round game. “I’m sweatier, more out of breath. It’s intense.”

East and her spring kickball team decided to play dodgeball indoors for the summer and plan to continue kickball in the fall.

Basic rules of play

Can’t remember how to play the playground games of your youth? Here’s a quick refresher course on kickball and dodgeball rules. (Some league rules vary slightly.)

Kickball: If you know how to play softball or baseball, picking up kickball should be a snap. Instead of batting a small white ball, players kick a big red rubber ball. Similar rules apply for balls, strikes and fouls, called by umpires. Players on the opposing team throw the rubber ball at runners to tag them out before they reach base.

Dodgeball: Often played indoors, two teams separate to opposite ends of a basketball court. Rubber balls are lined up at center court. When a referee blows a whistle, the teams scramble for balls and begin throwing them at the opposing team. Players must remain on their team’s side of the court. When a player is hit, he or she is out. If a player makes a catch, the opponent who threw the ball is out. The winning team is the one that ousts all its opponents.

League play

Typically, coed leagues require teams on the field to be made up of equal numbers of men and women. Most teams do not hold practices. Fields/gyms may change with season.

Cost varies from about $10 to $65 per player per season. The more expensive playground game clubs offer extras such as team parties, bar specials and uniforms.

Get your grown-up game on

Austin Sports and Social Club Inc.

Sports: Kickball and dodgeball

Where: Kickball is played at Richard Moya Park, 10001 Burleson Road, dodgeball is played at Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Drive.

Who: Must be 21 to play.

www.austinssc.com

sfrank@statesman.com; 912-2933

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