My kids want to join a dodgeball league
The park district where I coach my daughter’s basketball team has another offering for the winter: a youth dodgeball league for fourth- to eighth-graders. My seventh-grade son and my fifth-grade daughter are chomping at the bit (whatever that bit might be) to join, as are my eighth-grade and fifth-grade nephews (not pictured in the Joe W. Sorenson photo above, taken from Flickr.)
But wait, you say. Isn’t dodgeball, as the great Patches O’Houlihan put it, a game of violence, exclusion and degradation? Isn’t this the sport being banned from gym classes because it causes so much bullying and pain? Are my kids and nephews oversized sadists because they want to chuck rubber balls with full force at kids to hear that satisfying “poonk” sound when ball meets flesh? Well, yes, yes, and let me get back to you on that last one.
I am not one of those parents who believes that there’s direct line of pussification between banning dodgeball and our president bowing before other world leaders. It turns out that while some of us have horrible memories of oversized pieces of beef bouncing balls off our heads at 150 mph at a 10-foot distance, a lot of kids happens to like that game. Yes, dodgeball leagues aren’t just for nostalgic adults anymore.
A dirty little secret of dodgeball is that some schools still play it in gym class, such as the one my kids attend. It turns out, my kids, no behemoths, love the game. So much so, my backyard in the summer is turned into an ersatz league. My kids have their friends over, line up every ball they can find in the middle of the yard, and have at it. My first-grade son plays with the big kids, too (though they do take care not to save their hardest shots for him). The 2004 Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller epic “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” is frequently played in my house, which is why I know of Patches O’Houlihan, seven-time American Dodgeball Association of America all-star.
The appeal of dodgeball is its simplicity — take a ball and chuck it. Well, maybe the satisfaction of violence, too. But as a sport, it’s hardly more violent than, say, football. As of yet, no one is doing studies on the alarming rate of dodgeball concussions, though I think Todd Brammer in ninth grade nearly gave me one when he hit me in the head, which then bounced off the back wall. (I wasn’t decapitated. I went back to grab a ball and learned a valuable lesson in keeping your head up. Anyway, in high school we also played the far more violent wallball, which involved two teams of about 30 sophomore boys running on their needs in a small area of the wrestling gym to try to press a ball against a small square in the wall for a goal, and you could do anything — I mean, anything — to stop the movement of the ball or players. I ended up having my right, nonthrowing wrist broken when a guy followed through with his head after I followed through on a throw. To add insult to injury, the school nurse twisted my wrist in a circle to find out if it hurt — um, yes — and then sent to me lunch, as if salisbury steak and gravy had magical healing powers.)
(Sorry for the long parenthetical. Back to dodgeball.)
For the league in question — only $25 a head, cheap to join a team — the kids will spend the first three weeks learning rules and practices before teams are picked, and games begin. Three weeks of rules and practice? I don’t remember dodgeball being that complicated. Maybe it takes time to absorb the five D’s of Dodgeball, or maybe the coach will throw a wrench at the kids and tell them that if they can dodge a wrench, they can dodge a ball. (Dodgeball movie references, if you hadn’t guessed.)
Say it with me kids: the five D’s of dodgeball are dodge, dive, dip, duck and dodge.
While I think my kids and nephews will enjoy the league, I hope the sport doesn’t get too formalized and ruin the fun everyone has in my back yard. Unfortunately, I have to impress upon my kids that the chances of going pro are slim, because there is a professional dodgeball league. I’ll look for the National Dodgeball League on ESPN8: The Ocho.