It's an old, new ball game

Dodge ball fans return to gym for old school playground pastime

January 21, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

A barrage of yellow foam flew towards Gavin Zorbach.

He jumped over two balls that were hurled at his feet, and caught a third one spiraling toward his stomach. When all six of the balls were on his side of the court, he picked one up to retaliate.

Winding his arm back, he flung one of the balls across the gymnasium.

A hit!

His opponent left the court.

"I enjoy the intensity and aggression of this game," said Zorbach, 24, of Bel Air, after the game was over. "It's a great tension reliever. And a great way to relive your childhood."

Zorbach, a financial analyst, was playing dodge ball in an adult league that started three years ago in Bel Air.

Operating under the auspices of Play Action Sports and Social Club, the league offers dodge ball in the fall and winter. Other sports offered through the club, which caters to adults 21 years and older, include football in the spring and fall, soccer in the spring, and kickball and softball in the summer.

The object of dodge ball is to eliminate the other team by hitting players with a ball or by catching a ball thrown by the opposing team.

To play in the league, players must pay a fee of $45 each for an eight-week session, held on Thursday nights in a John Carroll School gym. Each team has six players.

Some people join as a team, said Krystin Porcella, 30, the league's founder.

Six balls covered with a fabric that helps prevent stinging are placed at center court. When the whistle blows, the players run to the balls and start bombarding each other. As many five-minute games as possible are played during each 50-minute session.

"It rarely takes five minutes to complete a game," Porcella said. "Usually within two minutes, the game is over."

Porcella, a physical education teacher at John Carroll, started the league three years ago with 80 people. Since then, enrollment has almost tripled, she said.

The idea to create the club originated while she was a member of a similar club in Baltimore. When she moved to Bel Air, she grew tired of the commute and decided to start her own league.

"I wanted something in the community where I live," Porcella said. "I knew enough people to get a league together, and the club has been growing ever since."

For Porcella, it's a love of the game that brings her coming back to the court for the eight-week sessions.

"When I was a little girl, I loved to play dodge ball," Porcella said. "I wanted to play just for the fun of it, with people who love the game like I do."

Porcella attributes the growing popularity of the sport to the thrill of the game and to the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn.

"The movie caused a big increase in the number of people playing dodge ball," Porcella said. "And once a person plays, they love the game, they are hooked."

A report by the International Dodge Ball Federation stated that in 2004 - the same year the movie was released - children made up the largest group of federation players. However, the report said that adults ages 25 to 35 years old make up the largest group of new players.

League members note camaraderie, beer, and the thrill of the game as reasons for joining the club.

It's also a chance to act like a child, Porcella said.

"When we get out on the court, we all get to regress to fifth grade," Porcella said. "It's the most intense two minutes you'll ever experience. There are 12 people on the court, six balls flying and a mad rush to throw a ball and hit somebody."

Despite the fast pace, it's fun, said Jennifer Biscoe.

"I laugh the entire time I'm out there," said Biscoe, 24, of Perry Hall. "I don't know which way to look, and my head spins around. You don't know whose ball is going where, or what's going on. It's exercise, but you don't even realize it. It's just crazy."

The game is social, athletic and family-oriented, said Michael Axelson, 35, of Abingdon.

"You start out not knowing anyone and end up finding out that you have mutual friends all over the place," he said. "When the weather is warmer, dodge ball is a family event. People come and bring their families to watch the games."

Despite the chaotic atmosphere, the injuries have been minor, said Axelson, a builder.

After the games are finished and the balls are packed away, the teams head to a local bar for drinks and wings, he said.

For one player, that's what makes the fear of getting pummeled worthwhile.

"I like coming for the beer afterward," said Jeff LaCroix, 24, of Bel Air. "Dodge ball is a way to work off the beer before you even start drinking. And it's the only place where a guy can throw a ball at a girl and get by with it."

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