Game of kickball grows up Sports: Older students are playing kickball, once just a children's game, as an intramural activity at the University of Maryland, College Park, one of two schools nationwide offering it.

September 20, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Susan Proto, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park, was talking strategy last night.

"Keep the ball down, because when it goes into the air, it's easy to catch," she said.

It could have been baseball she was describing until she added, "Unless you can kick it so far that no one can catch it."

Proto was talking kickball, a sport that attracted 170 Maryland students to the school's first intramural kickball championship tournament last night.

Maryland and the University of Nebraska are the only two schools in the country that offer the sport, which most students hadn't played since they were wearing hand-me-down sweat shirts and corduroy reversible slacks.

Sean O'Keefe and John Wagoner were the heavy kickers of the event, played on an artificial grass field on the campus.

"They're the 'Bash Brothers,' " said Tim Flood, a teammate on their Irishmen kickball intramural team. "I've heard stories about them and their game."

O'Keefe shrugs at the comparison. "Mark McGwire is my idol," acknowledges the 18-year-old freshman accounting major from Burtonsville. "But I don't think he'd play kickball."

The man behind College Park's kickball renaissance is Jeff Kearney, assistant executive director of the school's Campus Recreation Services, which manages intramural sports.

Kearney, a 27-year-old who could blend in with a group of freshmen, said he got the idea when he worked for the intramural sports office at Nebraska in 1994.

"When I first went there, I thought 'Man, that's a neat idea,'" Kearney recalled. "I mean, that was my favorite sport when I was in elementary school."

The next year, Kearney started working at Maryland, where intramural sports revolved around the traditional: football, soccer, basketball and softball. So Kearney -- who describes himself as "creative" -- started proposing other activities with surprising success.

Last year, 50 students signed up for a darts tournament and 60 competed in a sports trivia contest. The softball home run derby increased from 50 batters in 1995 to 130 in 1996.

The goal, Kearney said, is to encourage some of the 35,000 students who attend Maryland to participate in campus activities.

"There's this perception that this is a suitcase school," he said, referring to students who don't stay around campus to have fun. "We wanted to give them some options to help them stay on campus."

The diversity of sports has also drawn a small yet significant number of female students to intramural sports -- which is more ** than 80 percent male.

Mindy Salganik said she would've been sleeping if the kickball tournament was not offered.

"It's tough getting girls together to play sports," acknowledged the 20-year-old junior psychology major from Timonium. "Most girls are not confident that they can run around in sports like football and soccer, but kickball gives everyone a chance to participate."

Students shared vivid memories of their playing days in elementary school.

Katy Henley of Burtonsville recalled sitting in a portable classroom on her school playground as other classes played kickball during recess.

"You'd be sitting in the classroom and then you'd hear this THUNK," the 18-year-old freshman criminology major said. "That was the ball smacking the portable."

Ali Gailunas, a 19-year-old junior family studies major from Catonsville, said the boys at St. Mark's School would always compete against the girls.

"They never let us play on the same team," Gailunas said. "But that was OK because we always won."

The keep-the-ball-down strategy worked well for the Delta Chi team, which used bunt singles and ground balls down the line to power itself to a 10-4 win over the Irishmen in the first kickball intramural divisional championship.

O'Keefe kicked some monstrous shots, but they were caught by the fleet-footed Delta Chi players.

"I think I broke my foot on that one," Wagoner, an 18-year-old freshman from Burtonsville, said after one shot.

The Irishmen congratulated the champs, but Flood, of the Irishmen, was depressed by the loss.

"Look at them celebrating on the mound," he said, as he enviously watched the Delta Chi players. "That hurts."

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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