Peeling back an iron-on transfer from a Hanes Beefy-T, the toothy cartoon likeness of actor Clint Howard comes into focus. For this Saturday only, I get to be an official member of the newly co-ed Clint Howard's Oblivion Express dodgeball team. As I slip on my new, church-white team jersey, I realize something awkward: I have no idea who Clint Howard is, nor, in fact, do I know how to play dodgeball.
Pump-up jams pulse through the stereo and full beer bottles rattle in the trunk as our caravan of six ladies and eight dudes pulls into the Meridian Home Court Y parking lot. Meridian Parks and Recreation is hosting today's co-ed Legends of Dodgeball tournament, which consists of two pool-play matches that seed the 12 teams into a double-elimination tournament. I also have no idea what that means.
After entering the chilly, partitioned three-court gym, I sit down with Colin Moss--Parks and Rec employee, tournament referee and dodgeball slayer--to chat about the game.
"When everybody comes out ... they know what dodgeball is, but they've never really experienced it," says Moss. "They were making fun of the people that were playing before, but after they come out and play, they just have a blast."
Moss pioneered the Meridian adult dodgeball league--where Clint Howard's Oblivion Express competes--which consists of eight regular season games in the fall culminating in a final double-elimination tournament. Today's spring tournament, Moss informs me, is a just-for-fun event that has no bearing on the regular dodgeball season.
"We had 22 teams in the league this last year, and everybody seems to enjoy it a lot, and so we thought it would be fun to get a tournament going," says Moss.
Much like the gut-whomping games of dodgeball you were traumatized by in grade school, adult dodgeball takes place inside the volleyball lines on a squeaky basketball court. But unlike the grade school game, grown-up dodgeball uses foamy, Nerfy neon balls instead of the red rubber ones that left deep, hatched smacks on your 8-year-old thighs. At this co-ed tournament, no more than six people are allowed on the court at a time, and at least three of them have to be girls--which is where my unabashedly unathletic utility comes into play.
"In the co-ed divisions you can't have more than three guys on the court at any time," says Moss. "Open divisions, you can have whatever you want--it could be six guys, it could be six girls, whatever you want to do."
Out on the court, our group is divided into two teams--the Clint Howards and the Oblivion Express. We're a hodge-podge-dodge assembly of mid-20 and 30-somethings; some of us rock short shorts and knee socks, while others are suited up in track pants and sweatbands. But we have nothing on the Fire Ballers, a team of local firefighters whose players are decked out in mullets and pink tulle skirts.
"We get lots of people that will ... show up with their short shorts and their headbands and Afros and things like that ... Of course, people have watched the movie Dodgeball, so they want to dress up," says Moss.
The game works like this: Three minutes are set on the clock, and six balls are placed on the center court line. Players start at the baseline and race to grab the three right-most balls after the whistle is blown. You can only pitch a ball at the opposing team after you carry or pass it to another teammate behind the attack line. According to my seasoned CHOE teammates, flinging the ball back speedily to another player already behind the attack line is called a "Tom Sawyer."
If you get grazed by a ball anywhere on your body or clothing--or if an opposing player catches your ball--you're out. You can also block a ball that's thrown at you while you're holding another ball. If you mow down everyone on the opposing team before the clock runs out, your team gets two points. If anyone remains on the court, you get one. The first team to five points, in this tournament, wins the game.
With all those rules rattling around in my head, my teammates and I grab balls and get dodging. After lobbing a couple weak, rainbow-arced duds that instantly get me out, I decide my strategy is to throw as little as possible. I hold tight to a ball, reflecting fast-pitched thuds head-on and duck as balls whiz past various appendages. As long as I don't get out, I rationalize, the other team will only get one point. Turns out, that strategy isn't a particularly good offense. I am often one of the last remaining players on the court, which leads to a full-on foam ball blitzkrieg. Our team, the Clint Howard's, is eliminated after three games, while the Oblivion Express lasts considerably longer--snagging third place.
After we all down some defeat beers in the parking lot, I head back inside to chat up the final two teams: the Wrenches and the 5 D's.
"I kind of thought it would be a little bit lame, but I'm surprised how much fun dodgeball is," says the Wrenches' Chris Cain. The Wrenches are the more intimidatingly athletic of the final two teams--I can still feel the sting on my upper lip from a ball they flung at my face earlier. The 5 D's--which, I'm told, stand for dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge--are having a bit more fun with it.
"It's like a dream come true so far. We lost in the first game," says the 5 D's Chris Keith.
"But we're comeback kids," interjects 5 D's player Veronica Rodriguez.
"'A team of destiny' would describe us best," quips Keith.
After the first few rounds of the championship game--which the Wrenches unsurprisingly win--we head back out to the parking lot to drown our sorrows in more suds. I ask the Oblivion Express' notoriously competitive Greg Smith how he feels about the day:
"It was fun, but we lost," says Smith.
"Tell me what you really think," I prod.
"We fucking lost, I'm pissed! But overall it was good ... I only want to beat up a couple people, not everybody," smiles Smith.