The request seemed innocent enough: two senior boys politely seeking players for the annual battle of wills between HHS staff and the graduating class during the final days of school. If it had been Whiffle ball, kickball, or even flag football, I might have joined in. But it was dodgeball, a game where the primary objective is to hurl a large rubber ball as hard as you can at an opponent. A game that leaves many participants with the imprint of those balls on the side of their faces. A game that, at a very young age, scarred me for life.
It probably goes without saying, given my talents coaching freshman volleyball last fall and my prowess leading my daughter’s U10 town softball team, but I was pretty athletic growing up. I climbed trees, rode my bike, tagged along with my older brothers when they played baseball or went sledding down treacherous ravines. In high school, I lettered in volleyball and track. In college, I rowed on the crew team. Hard work, long hours of practice, and the effort to master new skills did not deter me from sports. Sore muscles, bumps and bruises did not scare me away.
But dodgeball is a whole other beast. I’d hardly call it a sport, despite the existence of competitive tournaments parodied in the great Ben Stiller-Vince Vaughn movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” Sure, there’s some skill involved, some athleticism –you’ve got to be able to throw and catch, and agile enough to jump out of the way. But to me, dodgeball has always been a viscous exercise in rage, where the strong prey on the weak and the winner is the one who can knock down everyone else with brute force. Even the most well-meaning players can get caught up in the frenzy.
I can still remember like it was yesterday, the day I swore off dodgeball forever. It was summer camp before junior high. We did arts and theater and then burned off excess energy playing sports. One rainy day, we were confined to the gym and the game chosen by campers was dodgeball. I’m not sure what had distracted me, but I looked away from the game for just a moment. I was rudely returned to reality when the red rubber ball slammed into the side of my face. Stinging from shock as well as pain, I burst into tears and ran from the gym, a few kids laughing as I made my escape.
Not my proudest moment, but one that still lives vividly in my mind. I do not like dodgeball. I do not want my child to play dodgeball. I am one of “those” parents who think dodgeball should be banned in schools. I don’t think playing it is good exercise or harmless fun. I see it as a game where the weak or lesser skilled are targeted. That happens enough in life. We don’t need to encourage it in our children’s play.
Full disclosure: I’ll admit that I laugh through the Dodgeball movie every time it’s on, and have been known to quote “if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” But I love that movie because it skewers the game and its ridiculous extremes. Plus, Ben Stiller’s character is such an absurd cartoon, it’s hard not to laugh.
So — not that anyone asked — that is why I will not be playing in the staff versus seniors dodgeball game on Thursday (May 21). I don’t want to get hit in the face. I don’t want to hit anyone else in the face. I don’t want to be the last person standing on a team when three or four opponents are closing in. Call me a softy, but I think a game of kickball or Whiffle ball is more friendly, more democratic. When a senior class challenges the staff to one of those contests, I’ll be the first to sign up. Til then, I’ll stay safe and sound and far, far away.