The popular childhood game of kickball has reached adulthood, but don’t expect it to exhibit much maturity.
Instead, it’s quite the opposite, as an increasing number of Valley residents are discovering. About 350 players covering 16 teams show up at Desert Breeze Park nearly each Wednesday throughout the year as part of the World Adult Kickball Association, and the games are just part of the festivities.
Credit: Anthony MairLeague organizer Lindsay Hool first learned about WAKA in January 2009.
Teams sometimes dress in themed costumes, music can be heard blaring across the fields and cold beverages are rarely more than an arm’s length away. Warmer weather brings out the Slip ’n Slide and wet T-shirt contests, and you’re more likely to see participants, all of whom must be at least 21, refueling with Jello shots rather than Gatorade.
“It’s basically the same game you’ve played,” says local WAKA league organizer Lindsay Hool. “We’ve just taken it up a notch.”
Indeed, the game is essentially the same as most people remember. There are four balls and three strikes, and the pitcher is allowed to deliver the ball in whatever fashion—bouncing or rolling, underhand or overhand—as long as it bounces at least twice before reaching the plate and crosses the plate no more than a foot or so off the ground. Veteran players officiate the games.
Since most pitchers deliver the ball at high velocity and some utilize different types of spin, the long ball is usually not an effective offensive strategy. Instead, bunting is the preferred weapon usually employed to generate baserunners, making the catcher an important defensive position.
Team rosters consist of 18-26 players, and 11 defenders play the field, including at least four players of each gender, with five players normally patrolling the outfield. And when it comes to talent, don’t worry about it; none is required.
“It’s a nonthreatening arena in which to play a team sport,” says Hool, 32, who first learned about WAKA from her real-estate agent when she moved to Las Vegas in January 2009 “It’s not like soccer or softball where you have to have some skills or your teammates get mad at you.”
Players can sign up as individuals, in small groups or with entire teams. Each player pays a $65 entry fee, which is good for a WAKA team T-shirt, and two parties during the season. The league also contributes a portion of its funding to charitable causes, and last fall helped send two children with cancer to camp.
The concept for WAKA originated between friends over beers in Washington, D.C., in 1998. Now 12 years later, WAKA has more than 300 leagues and 3,000 teams across the country, with teams in nearly every state. The Las Vegas chapter, which started three years ago, has grown so much that leagues now take place throughout the year. The spring and summer leagues both sold out, and now Hool, who is in her fourth season with WAKA, is organizing a second fall division on Thursday nights at Paradise Park, giving eastside residents a league closer to them.
Not only is Las Vegas host to local WAKA leagues, but the city has also become the kickball capital of the world. The Founders Cup, the world’s largest kickball tournament with 72 teams, will be held at Desert Breeze in October for the third straight year. Teams that have won their league are invited, but spots are limited, and the event sold out in three minutes last year.
The party atmosphere surrounding the league is reflected in team names, demonstrated in such monikers as 99 Problems But a Pitch Ain’t One, Ready to Score and Balls of Steal.
“The people who are attracted to kickball are the real creative types, you know—funny, goofy,” Hool says.
When the games end each Wednesday night, the party usually just shifts to Shuck’s Tavern II, which sponsors the league. There, the good times continue and people who often start out as strangers leave as friends. It is that camaraderie that has attracted 33-year-old Melissa Stern to the sport.
“It’s definitely a social thing,” she says. “I used to work out three to four times a week, and I’ve gained about 10 pounds since I started playing in September, but it’s worth it. It’s way more fulfilling to have friends and meet new people than to be a Barbie-looking girl.”
Stern works two jobs, so she was having a difficult time meeting people outside of work. She discovered kickball while searching craigslist.com one day, and decided to give it a shot. Now Stern, who is playing in her third season, assists Hool in organizing the league.
“It’s probably one of the better things I’ve done for myself personally, making a lot of friends and meeting new people,” she says. “I help [Hool] because I want everybody else to have fun; I want everybody else to continue having fun.”
For more information about WAKA, go to kickball.com.