Squeaking bases and excited screams of "Blastball!" aren't normally associated with the game of baseball or softball, but Parks and Recreation Blastball is out to change all that.
Blastball is a unique game for preschool-aged children to develop baseball and softball skills and cultivate sportsmanship and a love of physical activity. Different sections play Monday through Thursday at the East Lawrence Center for five weeks of the summer.
Rodney Hess and James Lawrence, coaches for the Section B portion of Blastball held on Monday nights, said they got involved in the league because of the impact it has on fostering a healthy attitude about physical fitness and teamwork in the kids.
"We want to see them have fun so they'll continue to see activity and team sports as fun and not just competitive," Hess said. "We try to make them all feel good and successful about themselves."
At times Hess and Lawrence must corral more wayward participants than teach them, but they said the kids are starting to come around and better understand and appreciate the importance of the game.
"Just in this third week you can see the game coming together for them," Hess said. "And it's good to see the parents involved with the kids."
Hess and Lawrence, who are physical education teachers during the school year, said the league allows them to continue teaching kids about the importance of the game and the fun and exercise it provides.
If it is fun participants in Blastball are looking for, they are certainly on their way to achieving it. Running, bouncing, jumping and laughing kids abound at the East Lawrence Center gym. Some players take the opportunity of the open gym to bounce off walls, spin in circles and even do cartwheels across the courts. Five-year-old Isiah Barfield runs and spins in one corner while he catches balls with his father. Barfield has enthusiastically picked up the activity.
"I like hitting the ball, I like catching," Barfield said. "I want to learn how to throw the ball up in the air better."
Even through all the fun and games, Blastball still demands a certain amount of attention and obedience from participants.
The sessions are structured and broken up into a warm-up which usually involves parents and even older brothers and sisters tossing balls to participants, then there is a short lesson to focus attention on a certain aspect or skill to be learned and finally a couple of rounds of the actual game to cap it all off.
Section B's lesson on June 19 was on ground balls. Both Hess and Lawrence demonstrated catching with two hands as the kids attentively listened from the bench.
The lessons have also become a family act. Parents and siblings fully participate throughout the warm-up, lesson and game. Brothers and sisters also jump in with their younger siblings.
After years of having his younger brother, Aidan, by his side at baseball games, Logan Bannister decided to hit the court to help his brother learn the basics of baseball.
"He came out and watched a lot of my baseball games, so now I am doing this for him," Bannister said. After the short lesson and interaction with their parents and siblings, the kids hit the court for a few rounds of Blastball. The game itself is unlike baseball and softball in the fact that only one base is used, just off to the right of the tee. Players stand on seven multicolored circles around the gym waiting to catch the ball when a batter hits it off the tee.
There are no home runs or outs to record in this game, players simply swing away and run to the base that honks when they jump on it, which is called the blastbase. Players in the makeshift outfield run to catch the ball and yell "Blastball!"
With all the fun jumping on noisy bases and running to catch stray balls, it is no wonder that the program helps participants to learn about the game without them ever realizing they are learning. After the final rounds of Blastball were finished and Hess and Lawrence called everyone in for some final thoughts to close out the night, shouts of "Are we done already?" and "Is the game over already?" exploded from the kids. Even after Blastball ends, parents, coaches and participants hope the game will still go on for years to come.