Originally created 05/24/04

Adults finding fun and exercise in an old playground favorite: dodgeball



PORTLAND, Ore. -- If you were one of those kids who never got picked for the dodgeball team, you get a second chance.

The grade school game is now hot among young adults.

"It's ridiculously fun. It's high-energy, you don't stop moving. There's sensory overload," said Colleen Finn, who founded the Portland adult dodgeball league this year.

And throwing a ball hard at someone can be fun, too.

Grown men and women are turning dodgeball into a recreational sport, with pickup games and championship tournaments.

The game's visibility may well grow after this summer's release of a movie starring Ben Stiller, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story." It's the tale of a group of misfits who want to save their gym from a takeover by a fancy fitness center.

Finn founded the Portland league, which just wrapped up its season, as an indoor activity for kickball players during the city's infamously rainy winters. Word quickly spread, and in less than two weeks she had eight teams.

Players have to be at least 21, because Finn, 25, doesn't want anyone to feel left out if the teams go out for beer after the game.

Fittingly, games are held in the gym of a former elementary school.

"There's always that kid who wasn't picked for a team in the fifth grade," Finn said. "This is the perfect chance for redemption."

The idea is to have fun, so rules are loose. Ten players line up on each end of a court with a line of balls between them. The whistle is a signal to grab the balls and hurl them at each other. If you're hit, you're out; the first team without players loses.

Cameron Levine, the 28-year-old captain of Portland's America's Freedom team, was looking for a group activity that involved "some kind of exercise." He felt limited to pickup basketball games, until he saw an Internet posting for the Portland league. He and several friends signed up.

Between running to catch balls, trying to dodge them and throwing them at opposing players, the movement is constant. While that makes it excellent exercise, dodgeball isn't for the out-of-shape.

"It helps to develop coordination. It's jumping, it's lateral movement, it's throwing. There's a lot of things that enhance fitness. But you typically need to be fit to do it," said Dr. Linn Goldberg, professor of medicine and head of the division of health promotion and sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

Levine said injuries are rare, but at the end of a particularly heated game his arm is sore.

A few years back, the hitting that's intrinsic to the game gave dodgeball a bad reputation in school yards, and some schools talked of banning it.

But the hitting is what appeals to the grownups.

"We got a guy in the foot and took him off his feet. It was awesome," said Sean Tufts, a linebacker who played intramural dodgeball at the University of Colorado. He was recently drafted by the Carolina Panthers.

At Kent State University in Ohio, Olsen Ebright is manager of the campus dodgeball club. Pickup games started in 2003, and the game is now officially recognized as a club sport.

"I'm a senior now, and I have so much stress. But on Fridays I get to go throw balls at people for two hours, and the stress is gone," the 22-year-old said. "It's a blast."

There's even a governing body for dodgeball - the National Amateur Dodgeball Association which holds seven tournaments a year, including the Outdoor Nationals July 23-24 in Schaumburg, just outside of Chicago.

While organizer Bill DePue says the average age for dodgeball enthusiasts seems to be in the mid-20s, a few years ago, one team had players over age 60 in the tournament. All were graduates of the same high school.

"I think it goes back to the fact that everybody's played it," DePue said. "Whether it was dodgeball, bombardment or whatever you want to call it."