Evergreen Dodgeball runs an adult league and holds open gym sessions at Northgate Community Center in Seattle.
AS SOON AS I saw the big group of folks flinging small red balls at each other at the Northgate Community Center in Seattle, my stomach turned. Was I voluntarily submitting to dodgeball?
I remember dodgeball from elementary-school gym class. I remember getting hit by rubber balls. I remember hating it.
Yet here I was, headed into the fray. I wondered whether I could just watch instead.
Evergreen Dodgeball runs a league and holds open gym sessions at Northgate on Monday nights, using “no-sting” balls. It’s a young, energetic group, packed with people who, I assume, liked the game as kids.
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Organizer Brian Joyal gave me a rundown of the rules. As he talked, I was happy to see a mix of men and women playing, while simultaneously feeling freaked out by how hard everyone threw. Did all of these people really enjoy dodgeball?
I stepped into a game. It was crowded, with at least a dozen people per side, so at first, I tried to hide. Typically, the side with more balls (seven are in play) moves to the center for offense, while the other team hovers near the wall. You feel exactly like what you are — a target.
I spent my first few games not doing much, which often meant I was one of the remaining players on the court. I don’t recommend this approach. On the other hand, when you get a ball, you are expected to move to the middle. I didn’t like this choice, either.
Soon, we broke into smaller teams. At first, this was more nerve-wracking, but then I realized things got better with six or eight people per team. It was easier to grab a ball and less intimidating to move to the center. I learned to throw in sync with my teammates.
With small teams, the games turn over much faster. No matter your skill level, almost everyone ends up the last person on the court at some point, i.e. target practice.
Dodgeball is basically sprinting, trying to grab balls and throw them. One organizer said you build endurance for the two-hour session over time. I didn’t think much of his comment until 30 minutes later, when I was panting, legs burning and shoulders aching, praying for rest that didn’t come. (Note: You can always sit on the sidelines. I didn’t choose this option; I recommend resting.)
My dodging improved first. I got better at anticipating when someone might throw at me, seeing a ball out of the corner of my eye and hopping or scrambling out of the way. I knew which players to watch out for.
Throwing, however, was a major work in progress. Some people could slam the ball with great accuracy, pinging it off the back wall. I had trouble with force and accuracy.
I realized I would do better if I aimed at people closer to the center, trying to hit them as soon as they threw.
Putting it into action was tough; you can’t just stand there to throw, because someone is always aiming for you. And those no-sting balls? If thrown hard enough, they still sting.
For the last game, we all gathered for a game of Zombies (newbies) versus Survivors. By this point, I understood how to navigate the chaos. I even had fun.
I surprised myself by enjoying the intensity and camaraderie of dodgeball, enough that I would go back. If your inner 8-year-old is wary, don’t listen. Give dodgeball a second chance.