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Kickball Punks

The new American family day

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Throughout the land, schoolyard games are making their way to adult-level activity due, in large part, to the seeming human necessity not to want any part of personal or cultural history to fade away.

A few years back, when I lived in Olympia, Wash., foursquare had made a fierce comeback. You couldn't swing a dead possum without hitting a group of hipsters bouncing in every empty lot.

It seems kickball is no exception, as I found out earlier this year while attending a family barbecue that was interrupted by a spontaneous call for a kickball game. People heard the call and made haste to the nearest park as the guests rummaged through the garage for the only thing needed for kickball: a large, red rubber ball. We made our way to the park in a pack resembling a poorly executed Fourth of July parade. After several innings and adult beverages, we walked back to the house looking like the living dead but feeling so alive.

I never thought about kickball as a viable option for mid-summer entertainment, but after watching local artist and musician Tim Andreae kick the shit out of a red ball, I am sure that there may be nothing better.

You might be asking yourself: "But isn't kickball a kid's game?" Yes it is, but it is also for those of us who haven't grown past the age of 12 athletically.

What I mean to say is that kickball has been a part of the American cultural fabric for many years. In fact, according to the dubious Wikipedia, "American World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle reported it being played by U.S. soldiers during the Tunisia campaign 1942-1943."

Can you imagine that? Was that intended to amuse or confuse the enemy? I wonder why this little factoid was left out of commonly taught World War II history. I suspect it has something to do with the alternate name Wikipedia claims was used, "soccer baseball."

Considering the historical unpopularity of professional soccer in the United States, "soccer baseball" didn't stand a chance. And only after a renaming to "kickball" did it manage to survive the schoolyard.

To many, however, kickball would never be fully accepted in the mainstream and would never fit in with the likes of baseball or softball. It would live a life on the fringes where the only thing it had going for it was a fierce determination to be completely independent and never let the man hold it down.

What is important to note is that since the 1940s, America's underground has been developing an insatiable appetite for balls, especially when they're being kicked around at the local park by grownups in metal/punk rock bands with Mohawks, tattoos, facial piercings, food, friends and family.

That is exactly what I found at a baseball diamond in the southern section of the beautiful Ann Morrison Park one Sunday afternoon as the weekly punk rock kickball crowd assembled.

Before venturing to the park, I contacted Byl Kravetz, the founder of Boise metal/punk record label 1332 Records, and after getting directions, I met up with him and his label partner, Levi Popke.

An ever-growing group of people, of all ages and genders, was suiting up in tank tops with team logos and feasting on beer and a wide assortment of food. People were gathering for the pre-game festivities, which Kravetz assured me, always consist of eating, drinking and socializing.

Kravetz told me he had decided to make reversible jerseys for those who ordered them. Not only did the jerseys help divide teams—which is done in perfect grade-school fashion, by choosing captains—but they also provided the atmospheric symbolism of punk kickball.

On one side of the jersey is a picture of a rooster and the word "cocks." And on the reverse is a picture of a blue ball, and the word "balls." The jerseys are hilarious and represent the good-natured fun that these folks bring to the park every Sunday.

Kravetz said most of those in attendance are from local hardcore and punk bands, and used to play soccer together. But an increase in age and a decrease in ability influenced the friends to start playing kickball instead. After two years, it has grown and gotten better.

"The best things about kickball [are] that it is relatively free, everyone gets a turn, and it is a great way to spend time with friends and family in the music community," Kravetz said.

The relatively low cost, minimal equipment requirements and short learning curve amount to the ability to create an activity in which all kinds of people can participate.

Children and adults can share the field, as well as moms and dads, punks and Protestants. The game itself really matters least to this group, rather it is the time spent interacting and playing that make it worthwhile and important.

"Everyone is welcome to play, as long as they are not jerks. As long as they don't take it too seriously and get too macho," Kravetz pointed out.

Imagine that, a sport in which being the alpha male or female is discouraged and over-aggressiveness can get you banished. That's the kind of sport for me. The non-sport. Kickball is more like a board game in which you are the piece, and the goal is not to win the most points, but to be present in the moment and have a good time that can be shared by all. That's what makes kickball inherently punk, the notion that it can be any way people want it. I like to think that kickball says to baseball and softball, "You can go ahead and pitch, we prefer to roll."

Punk rock kickball starts at 3 p.m. every Sunday at Ann Morrison Park in Boise.

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