Dodgeball is dangerous.
Sure, you might think it’s just a kid’s game alongside tiddlywinks or Red Rover — but don’t be fooled. The moment they set foot on the court, players are susceptible to being hurt or humiliated.
Same goes for spectators, as can attest your humble reporter, who was struck savagely in the groin while covering this story. Dodgeball is that dangerous. Simply watching the game requires some mettle. But don’t just take my word for it.
“I got hit in the face, but I don’t know by whom,” says Jill Dryden, who moments earlier had blood gushing from her nose.
Or ask Brit Cecil, who was icing down a possibly sprained wrist.
“Right at the moment, I’m kind of ticked off,” she laments.
Her husband didn’t fare much better the week before.
“My knee fell apart when I was bending down for a ball, and I also jammed my pinky,” says Chris Cecil, wrapped in knee and pinky braces.
Bleeding Kansas Dodgeball league play
- Where: East Lawrence Recreation Center, 1245 E. 15th St., Lawrence
- Age limit: All ages
- Cost: Free
“It’s four hours straight of dodgeball,” says Lauren Pearce, co-organizer for the upstart league. “Each match is 50 minutes, however many games you can play in that time. ... I don’t think people expected it to be as grueling as it is. Everyone’s dripping sweat by the end. Our first night, I didn’t expect to be as sore as I was the next day. I twisted my knee a little bit, but I haven’t been hit in the face yet. I’m not particularly good at throwing the balls, but I can dodge the hell out of them — I can dodge your balls all ‘Matrix’ style.”
The league was conceived as an extension of the Kaw Valley Kickball League (listen to our kickball season finale podcast), so that grown women and men could continue to get really worked up over a playground game even during inclement weather.
Bleeding Kansas Dodgeball open play
- Where: Community Building, 115 W. 11th, Lawrence
- Age limit: All ages
- Cost: Free
“When kickball’s done, there’s nothing left to do for all those teams,” says Paul Santos, BKDL founder and commissioner. “This is something to do during the winter and the perfect opportunity to keep people out there hitting each other with balls. It’s mostly the people that made me want to do this. I’m friends with most of them from kickball and wanted another excuse to hang out, have a good time, and trash talk.”
Although it’s only in its first year, BKDL already has 12 teams and is packing the bleachers at the Rec Center. People can’t seem to get enough of the grisly sound of rubber slapping against flesh or the pungent aroma of generally out of shape adults.
“Lawrence likes to play kids games. In the future we’ll look at Four Square and Laser Tag,” says Santos, probably only half joking. “If you’re having a blast doing it, why not? What’s wrong with feeling like a kid again? It’s about having a good time with people you like and even having a good time with people you don’t like, because those are the people you can hit with balls.”
This enthusiasm, to a casual observer doubled over in pain after getting hit in between the legs, almost seems to border on sadism.
“It’s a good game for masochists, too, depending on how bad you are,” Pearce says. “It’s definitely a great outlet for aggression. That’s why it’s good we’re doing it on a Sunday, so you’ll go into work on Monday all relaxed. Dodgeball is very primordial. It’s straight up, ‘I’m going to hit you with this!’ Assault fire, for example, is fun. It’s where your team has a bunch of the balls and you all nail one person at the same time. That’s nice.”
“I’m not surprised at all by the intensity,” Santos says with a laugh. “You want to be the best out there and have the feeling you’re doing well. In the end, though, it’s all about having fun and having something to do on Sundays. It’s about making new friends and making new bruises.”
If you’re not squeamish and have a high tolerance for abuse, BKDL encourages you to show up at the East Lawrence Recreation Center for their Thursday night pickup games.
“We welcome non-kickball people to play, but we do have a specific way of playing,” warns Santos. “Some people’s sensibilities might get hurt. We are trash talkers, we throw the ball hard, and we throw it hard at girls because we’re not sexist. Welcome to the Bleeding Kansas Dodgeball League — we hurt everybody equally.”