Dodgeball used to be a simple grade-school game: Kids in a circle tossed a ball at the team in the middle of the circle. Everyone could play, and even nonathletes could win.
Today dodgeball is a serious sport. Instead of forming a circle, players face off on a regulation-size court. Instead of one ball, there are six. And instead of kids, grownups are playing. There are leagues all over the world. The National Amateur Dodgeball Association is the best-known U.S. organization.
In league play, six players line up for each team at opposite ends of the court. At the rush, or start of play, players run to the center line and grab the balls. They run back and start lobbing the balls at their opponents.
A player is out if she gets hit with a live ball, if she throws a ball and an opponent catches it, or if she goes out of bounds. A game lasts three to five minutes, depending on the league, or until all players from one team are out. This version is sometimes called battleball.
Recently, the Lincoln County Park and Recreation Department joined the dodgeball phenomenon. A league will start in East Lincoln in January. Denver's league will go by battleball rules, but the atmosphere isn't so much competitive as it is fun. The players are there to socialize, get exercise and take a break from routines and responsibilities.
Because this is East Lincoln's first dodgeball league, the players and the facility coordinator are using preseason practices to hammer out details, scrapping rules that don't work for this group and testing various types of balls used, the size of the playing area and other variables.
I attended a practice session last week, just to snap some pictures and see how the rules translated to play by adults (not all natural athletes). Like my grade-school self, I was terrified of being stung by the opponents' shots (that's no exaggeration; some of the balls are called "stingers"). Mostly, I was terrified of finding yet another way to embarrass myself.
If I embarrassed myself, I didn't have time to notice; I was having too much fun. We played for about an hour, as each team honed its strategies and learned who to watch out for.
Although the Denver league is not affiliated with the national association, its spirit is the same as NADA's: It's a recreational activity for "nontraditional sport enthusiasts." Teamwork and strategy are more important than athletic prowess.
If you can put on sneakers, the Denver dodgeball league can use you, too. The registration deadline has been extended until early January. Teams will play Sunday afternoons for eight weeks beginning Jan. 10. A practice will be at 3 p.m. Jan. 3 at the East Lincoln Community Center, 8160 Optimist Club Road. Details: www.lincolncounty.org.