“Hey you! Get over here and come play dodgeball!
Those were the first words screamed to me, Leslie Ellison #21″, by Carl Veith, co-captain with his brother Matt Veith in 2008.
My first time at the Kent State Rec Center, I was a terrified freshmen. I still think back to that day and laugh. It’s true what people say: sometimes one moment can change your life completely.
After that moment, my college years were consumed by dodgeball. It still has a hard ‘pinch’ on me today. Playing for KSU dodgeball was an absolute pleasure. It feels like you’re entering a brotherhood, one you could watch grow and grow with. A second family that you’ll genuinely have for the rest of your life.
My first year on the team, Kent State and the NCDA were nothing like they are now. Our team was a rambunctious mix of jocks, punky-bruisers, and awkward kids that didn’t have anywhere else to really go. And some of us just wanted to hit another human being with a rubber projectile. The NCDA as a whole was more balls to the wall and in your face than it is now. It’s great to see how strategy develops because of the ever-changing game style, but it’s also frustrating to go from what used to be a fast paced game to something slower and calculated.
For a front line blocker/catcher like me, the changes in the NCDA are even more frustrating, but you learn to deal with it. When I played for KSU, I would usually act as an instigator, aggressively charging the front lines to get a line of guys to back the hell up, openly flaunting the size of my team-given nickname (21″, my jersey number) to get the guys on the other team angry enough to throw at me. 99% of the time, it worked; most guys have no idea what to do when an aggressive yet small girl comes running at you with a ball, screaming the whole time that she has a bigger dick than you.
OSU is another story. Most of those wonderful gentleman from my year know me and laugh with me at the ridiculousness on the court.
Some of my fellow veterans would actually work with me and throw cross-court at opponents that were too timid to take on my death glare. Those kinds of players would back up to the back-line, likely too dumbstruck at what I was screaming to stay vigilant. And down they went from a cross-court sniper shot.
I still get ridiculously happy when I do this to people. It was actually brought to my attention that I scared out of a lot of the incoming fall 2012 freshmen that didn’t know how to handle me between the screaming of dick size and a “You had better be damn sure of your throw, otherwise I’m going to kill you with mine” death glare. To them I say: I’m just getting you ready for tournaments. Watch your cross.
My final year, Kent State’s captain Kyle FitzPatrick led us to Nationals 2012 ranked number 1. It was the first time in our team’s history we had made it ranked so high and it was really something to behold. It’s something that still has me brimming with pride. The new captains, Camden Fullmer and Dan Shackelford, have continued Kyle’s legacy and push players to become better and grow. As an alumna, it’s really awesome to watch the improvement from the fall to spring. That is, if you’re lucky enough to have a job that allows you to continue to go to the weekly ‘practices’. But along with the league, our practices have gradually changed to keep up with the tournament style that has become a big focus of the team. Back in the day, a throw was life off ball, off wall, and off person- with a gym packed with 35+ people on either side, with at least 30 balls in the center. Not only would you have to make sure that you didn’t block a ball into your foot, but you would have to be more aware of a ball bouncing off of a wall into you and a neighbor resulting in a double, sometimes triple kill. Now it’s geared more towards the tournament style to get the incoming freshmen acclimated as quickly as possible so they’re not sleeping ducks when it really counts.
Less and less, I find myself trying to explain to people that the sport I played in college is in some sense more serious then that damn movie everyone brings up. It’s a lot more physically demanding than they think. In October I had to explain what happened to my hand. It had been busted open in a freak dodgeball accident and required 6 stitches ( I’m fine, and now I’ve got a cool scar and a ridiculous story behind it ). More people are starting to take the sport seriously.
What I loved the most is that even after graduation, I found out that there is still ‘life’ after dodgeball. After starting my new job at a pharmaceutical company, I was told that the Cleveland Corporate Challenge includes dodgeball as one of its various athletic competitions. Not only could I play, but my significant other ( Jason Hallman, #65 ‘Machine Gun’ KSU) could, too.. Having 2/3rds of Kent State’s front line on the corporate team helped us land first place in our division like it was absolutely nothing. ( If only we had Billy Cameron, #3.14 KSU, to join us one last time! ) It was certainly different playing with people older than us as opposed to the normal college students. Naturally we wore our jerseys- I could never play a competitive match without it. We took a lot of heat for it. Most people apparently don’t take kindly to have ‘professional’ players swoop in and dominate things like this, but it was still entertaining. Everyone focused on us. It was almost as exciting as an NCDA match. The rest of our team got to relax and not be timid playing against beefy 20 year olds working for younger companies. I’m pretty pumped for when OSU’s current captain Jude DuPart graduates and moves up to Cleveland so we can face off once again on the court. I have heard that there are various adult leagues popping up in the area, which excites me as well as several KSU alumni still living nearby.
When I first graduated in May 2012, I thought that I was done with dodgeball, but now I realize that I’m not. My job allows me to continue to attend as many dodgeball practices as I can, and it presents a unique opportunity as an alumna to help the younger players sharpen their skills. Lots of KSU alumni come back on Fridays and we have an annual alumni game every spring (Spring 2013 marks our 3rd year). It’s not just from my generation either- the founders come back every year if they’re able for the alumni game and some of the friday practices. Nick Fantozzi still snipes for faceshots from the side. Chris Becker still guns for sleeping freshmen. Dane Hraby and Brent Wesley still dance on the front lines dodging this way and that. Jerrod Yarosh still contorts for some of the craziest dodges and catches anyone has ever seen. Brett Hodros when he’s able to attend an alumni game still tries to gun for me- even though the student finally surpassed the master a few years ago ( I wouldn’t be the fantastic blocker I am today if it wasn’t for Brett and Becker). It’s wonderful to get all the old timers back to play and it’s pretty exciting to see the looks on the younger guy’s faces when they see these team legends, guys they’ve only heard stories about from tournaments past, and then get to learn a new trick on the court by the time practice is over.
It’s fantastic that as the NCDA grows, as the teams in the league grow while encouraging their alumni to remain as active as they can post graduation, and as dodgeball gets more recognition as a legitimate sport, there’s still life for a dodgeball player after graduation.
[21″ Kent State Dodgeball]