The volleyball courts of UC Irvine’s Anteater Recreational Center are unusually crowded for this late Tuesday evening. Buzzing college students gather in clumps, filling the spaces around the court sidelines. Every student in this noisy crowd seems to be wearing some combination of embroidered Greek letters. The echo of chatter and excitement reverberates through the gym as sorority girls warm up and the crowd of frat boys and supportive sisters impatiently wait for the sound of the first whistle.
Tonight, May 10th, is the Annual Panhellenic UCI Sorority Dodgeball Tournament, usually bringing out at least 9 of the 10 sororities to play, drawing out 54 players in all.
The ARC’s three volleyball courts, set up next to each other in rows, have been turned into makeshift dodgeball grounds for the night. A set of five red rubber balls are set across the court’s center line, dividing two teams of ten girls down each court. The gym is scattered with a colorful collection of matching v-necks, jerseys, and spandex, all with sorority Greek letters printed across it (some team uniforms even sporting aggressive phrases like, “DG Domination,” or “Delta TRI till I DIE”).
While teams of girls stretch out their legs, other teams run through drills, bouncing balls back and forth to each other. Some teams gather around a fraternity member, strategizing before the game; and others teams simply group together laughing and cheering, and having a great time.
After the first whistle blows, six teams begin lining up at either ends of the dodgeball courts, while the other three wait on the sidelines for their round to play. The crowd lowers to a hush and each player’s stance becomes increasingly serious.
A blonde pony tail whips along as a player shifts her weight from right to left- knees down, palms open, and heart pumping. To her, the only sounds in the gym now is the heavy breathing of her barely whispered contemplation,
“Dodge…duck… dip…dive… dodge.”
Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge- these words come together to form dodge ball’s most valued set of advice.
Because of its lack of a true written historical account, the origins of dodgeball are somewhat uncertain, giving internet-users the freedom to make up their own humorous accounts. The University of Victoria’s Engineering Journal, Tubes and Wires, ties multiple made-up stories together into one humorous article, linking dodgeball from cavemen throwing rocks all the way to opium-addicted Chinamen throwing severed heads.
The rules of dodgeball are fundamentally simple, hit the other team with the ball and in turn, don’t get hit. Infamously associated with the awkward phase of middle school gym class, the game of dodge ball has become one of America’s either most loved or hated childhood pastimes.
UC Irvine’s Panhellenic community lists dodge ball as an optional sport on their spring quarter roster. Every year, UCI’s sororities face off for one night of one round elimination dodge ball. The rules of the Panhellenic tournament are similar to the original. Two teams of six players, split up on two sides of a court. The winning team will have eliminated as many players as possible from the opposite side by knocking players out with a rubber ball. The ball must be thrown over the court’s center line, which no one is allowed to cross. If a team member is hit by a ball or if someone throws a ball and an opposing player catches it, the thrower is automatically out.
In tonight’s tournament, nine sororities come out to play and support their teams: Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Phi, Tri Delta, Delta Gamma, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Pi Beta Phi, and Sigma Kappa. Each sorority forms a team of ten members, with the option of appointing a fraternity member to act as their “coach."
Compared to the intensity of Panhellenic’s soccer or basketball season (where sororities hold weekly or biweekly practices for the five week span of multiple scheduled games), the optional dodgeball tournament adds a more upbeat and just-for-fun flavor to the sorority sports roster. But the one-night-only tournament does not take away any ounce of a sorority girl’s intense competitiveness; striving to win to prove themselves as Top House.
Colleen Lopez, a member of Tri Delta’s dodgeball team, shares in this intensity,
“Fun is always important, but who are we kidding? We want to win!!!”
(Colleen and her teammates)
At 9:30, the second whistle blows and a cloud of rubber screeches and cheering students echoes through the ARC. Girls make a dash towards the center line, trying to be the first to grab a ball, and the game begins.
Colors of pink and white jerseys blur around the court as sorority girls shuffle and swoop, just inches away from fast moving balls. High pitched grunts are heard as girls hurl rubber balls over their heads aiming for their opponents. Some girls jump, as balls shoot for the floor, while others dive left or right as balls are hurled straight towards them.
Colleen jumps high and keeps her eyes open for catchable balls. As one ball is chucked straight to her stomach, she clutches it, and then moves quickly to scan the court for moving targets.
Colleen attributes her swiftness to her participation during Panhellenic’s soccer season, but admits that without the drills she’s learned during practice, she wouldn’t be able to think as fast.
Over their years of participation in the dodgeball tournament, Colleen’s sorority has made up a few drills to bring to practice. They run drills such as the ‘Mad Dash,’ where they reenact the beginning part of the game when players sprint to center court to try and retrieve a ball, or ‘Rallies’, a mini-game the girls play where two girls stand on the inside of a circle, and the remaining players stand outside to try and hit them with the ball (once a girl is hit, she trades spots with the person who hit her).
For some dodgeball inspiration, Colleen and the other girls on her team head back to their sorority house after practice to watch “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”. The movie features Vince Vaughn opposite Ben Stiller mocking the world of professional dodge ball. Ben Stiller plays Globo-Gym owner White Goodman and captain of his uber-professional dodgeball team, the Purple Cobras; complete with their own outrageous display of uniforms- full bodied, leather S&M style, purple and black spandex suits.
(Photo credits: http://www.screenrush.co.uk)
The movie offers the girls some unrealistic advice to channel their own inner champion-dodgeball player: practice by playing the game with wrenches (“If you can dodge a wrench, then you can dodge a ball”), or by thrusting yourself onto the freeway, (“If you can dodge traffic, you can dodge a ball.”). As the girls watch two hours of satirical determination, over the top moves, and a mullet-clad Ben Stiller, they are unaware of the real world of professional dodgeball that the movie mocks.
According to USA Today, the revival of dodgeball began building momentum in Schaumburg, Illinois. In 1999, Bill DePue and the Schaumburg parks and recreational department began looking for a game to draw in family and residents to an outdoor city fair. Not too long after, the chosen game of dodgeball bore the start of the National Amateur Dodgeball Asociation- DePue as Vice President.
Today, there are a multitude of dodgeball leagues worldwide. Since 1999, more organizations have been started, such as The National Dodgeball Association, The International Dodgeball Federation, and The National Dodgeball League; allowing people of all ages to form teams and compete in this familiar, hit-or-be-hit game.
The National Dodgeball League has twelve official teams, holding aggressive names such as Los Angeles Chaos and the Houston Bounty Hunters. The basic rules of gym class dodge ball are complicated and broken down in the National Dodgeball League’s Official Rule Book.
The competitiveness of the NDL is as serious as their courtside regulations. Official rules calling for a 30’ x 30’ court is as far-from-familiar as professional P.E regulations go. They require a 4’ x 30’ neutral zone set in the center of the court where players are allowed to cross over and pick up stray balls. A 10’ attack line is also a requirement, set up parallel to the center line marking the end of the team’s territory. Neutral zones are also marked: the area of the court which is neither team’s territory but where players are allowed to cross into, throwing the ball at their opponents.
(A player in the neutral zone. Photo credit: TheNDL.com)
The professional feel of the courtside measurements are reiterated through the seriousness of the NDL’s uniform regulations. The rule book offers suggestions and a PDF file of uniform guidelines that each team is required to adhere to.
The NDL even boasts official names for all kinds of moves, tactics, and plays- all listed in their official rule book. “The Rush” takes place in the beginning of the game when the blow of a whistle signals players to rush to center court and try to retrieve as many balls as possible. They list terms such as “Head shot,” which prohibits players from throwing a ball at any players head (deeming the throwing player automatically out) and the complicated “Airborne Attack,” (the only time a player is permitted to touch the opposite side of the court) which allows airborne players to throw the ball while diving over the neutral zone and legally crossing the attack line, requiring that the ball “must leave the attacker’s hand before any part of the attacker’s body touches the opponent’s territory.”
(Photo credits: TheNDL.com)
The NDL’s sports an all-balls-out attitude, pushing an aggressive and full force demeanor that even restricts player substitutions at any point during a game. Calling for dedicated and determined players to this rubber ball war zone, the NDL seems to contain nothing but heavy enduring individuals. But for good reason, the official rule book does not show sympathy for tired players. Under the ruling for “Time Outs”, states one sentence: There are no team time outs.
Back at the ARC, the same kill-or-be-killed attitude can be felt throughout the courts. One by one, girls are struck by the thud of a rubber ball. As eliminations grow bigger, teams become smaller and smaller, until a blast of cheers erupts from one side of the court and just a few minutes later the next round of games can begin.
On the sidelines, sorority members hold glittery posters in support of their own team. Colorful signs with, “Dodge that ball!” or “Let’s get ‘em girls!” are bent and creased as girls jump and scream with the energy of the game.
Frat boys cheer too, as a rowdy group of them jump around, rooting for the girls. Some boys admit that they don’t come to support a specific team. One fraternity member, who also acts as one of the sorority’s coach, says, “It’s girls getting hit, so it’s got to be funny. But seriously, all the girls that come out are good sports.”
After four rounds and ten games of rubber-bounce revenge, two sororities, Kappa Alpha Theta and Gamma Phi Beta, are left to duke it out in the center court. The whistle blows and the game begins, without missing any beat of intensity. Balls are thrown faster, jumps are pushed higher, and diving bodies hit the floor even harder. The court’s population lessens one, sometimes two, girls at a time. Pony tails swing while girls dive and duck, catch and throw, *thump* and “YOU’RE OUT!”
The players shuffle around while the crowd’s yells grow louder and eliminations drop girls one by one. Finally, the blow of the last whistle signals the end of the final round. Kappa Alpha Theta wins first place, while Gamma Phi Beta places second and Alpha Chi Omega takes third.
As the ARC empties and the Greek students take their excitement outside, Colleen Lopez reconnects with her sorority and receives the warmth of encouragement. Although her sorority didn’t place Colleen laughs with her teammate, Danielle Page, while they walk back down to their sorority house.
“It’s dodgeball, so it’s competitive,” Danielle snickers, “but it’s with sororities, so it’s also a joke.”
(Sorority members hold signs as they wait outside the ARC for their team)
-Two hour observation of Panhellenic Dodgeball tournament
-5 minute interviews with members who came to watch
-Two hour observation of sorority dodgeball practice and after events
-Movie: Dodgeball: The True Underdog Story
-The National Dodgeball League’s Official Rule Book
-Interviews with Colleen Lopez of the Tri Delta dodgeball team
-Interview with Kamrin Klauchie, UC Irvine’s Panhellenic Athletic Officer