After 40 intense minutes, C.R. Hooligan's and Shenanigans are tied 7-7, so the teams take the court for one more round.
The players -- most of them in their 20s and 30s -- are shouting, clapping, high-fiving, putting their game faces on.
Head umpire Peter Boyer steps between them in the gym of Highlands
Elementary School in Wilmington, Del. He lowers and calms his voice so
the players pay attention to him.
"Remember," Boyer tells them, "it's only dodgeball."
That's right, dodgeball, the same game you
played -- and maybe dreaded -- in elementary school. Along with kickball
and Wiffle ball, it's making a comeback among adult leagues nationwide.
Players say these playground sports offer an
easier, cheaper and more social athletic outlet than some traditional
pastimes like softball.
"They're sports anybody can play," says Cyndi
Clifton, 25, of Bear, Del., a Shenanigans player who is looking forward
to kickball starting in a few weeks. "You need skill for softball."
Shifting demographics and the sour economy have
taken a toll on softball leagues, but those who run kickball, dodgeball
and Wiffle-ball leagues say they're booming.
"It's growing as fast as we can keep up with
it," says Johnny LaHane, a founder of the World Adult Kickball
Association, which began with just seven teams in 1998 and now has
about 4,000 teams nationwide.
"They're all an excuse to get outside and then get together in a bar," LaHane says.
For five bucks, you can forget your woes
Bob Downing, director of the Delaware Sports
League, says some players are paying the fees for friends who have lost
their jobs. The games provide an escape from the stresses of adult
life, a chance to be the gym-class hero again, he says.
"My job is to help you socialize," Downing says.
"You already know you have one thing in common, and that's that you
don't mind playing childish games.
"We're involved in our marriages and our
mortgages and our work and the economy," Downing says. "But then for
five bucks a week, I can go and forget about that for a few hours."
Downing started the Delaware Sports League three
years ago after seeing how popular kickball leagues had become around
the country. Much of that popularity began 12 years ago with a
conversation between LaHane and several friends.
"One night out at the bar, someone brought up kickball and wondered why we didn't play it anymore," LaHane says.
There are now 400 WAKA leagues nationwide, some of which play on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
A smaller venture, the Kickball League of
America, started with just four teams in Baltimore in 2001, says
Brannan Villee, one of the founders. It now has more than 250 teams in
Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.
"It just took off like wildfire," Villee says.
'Go out and act like a kid'
It's hard to know how many people are playing kickball, Wiffle ball or dodgeball because many leagues are small and independent.
National organizations say interest in rules,
tournaments and leagues has grown from a few dozen people a decade ago
to tens of thousands today.
"They're all over the place -- in high schools,
colleges, rec departments," says David Mullany, president of Wiffle
Ball Inc. and grandson of the David Mullany, who invented the ball in
"I've got a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old, so I've
got plenty of other things I should be doing," says Mark Myers, 40, who
plays in a small Wiffle-ball league in his Des Moines suburb. "Taking
one night to go out and act like a kid is about all I can do."
Many kickball leagues base their rules on softball, and some even use umpires certified by the Amateur Softball Association of America.
Softball remains a popular sport; about 3
million people play in ASA leagues nationwide, says ASA executive
director Ron Radigonda.
Leagues for girls and seniors are growing, but
adult leagues are taking a hit from the recession, especially in
regions most affected by layoffs and company closings, he says.
Softball is still one of the most popular games
on military bases, says Air Force senior airman Nick Vanhoorebeck, who
was home on leave from South Korea and came to watch his brother play
dodgeball at Highlands Elementary.
But dodgeball is big, too, he says. Vanhoorebeck plays in an Air Force dodgeball league.
"You expect to see this on a base because you've
got to stay busy," he says with a chuckle. "But grown people doing it,
that's just funny."
News release courtesy of USAtoday.com.