By Jon Gunnells, Published by The Big Green 01 December 2006
For a moment, the gym is silent. The squeaks of hightops on the freshly waxed gym floor are missing, as are the habitual thuds of playground balls careening into competitors’ bodies. It won’t be this way for long – to an unsuspecting observer, the cavernous room may just be resting from rounds of basketball practice, but another sport is about to take over. Once the officials place the 10 eight-inch red rubber-coated dodgeballs on the half court line, there are only three words that erase the silence and lead to mayhem:Ready! Set! Dodgeball!
Three years ago, political science prelaw senior Aleks Bomis skimmed through the pages of an old yearbook and came across a picture that would change his college career and the Spartan club sports scene for years to come. With that photograph as inspiration, he took a huge step and founded the MSU Club Dodgeball team, and he remains president of the club this year. “I saw a picture of some kids playing dodgeball and thought it would be a good idea,” Bomis said. “I really didn\’t have any expectations when starting it. For all I knew, it was going to be a flop.”
It turns out Bomis was wrong. The only things flopping now are the dodgeballers who will do anything to avoid getting hit by a wickedly-thrown dodgeball, including diving face first on a hardwood floor.
Since its inception in December 2003, the Club Dodgeball team has nearly doubled in membership each season. With a current membership of 80 students, it is the second largest student organization on campus. “In three years, we’ve gone from nothing to being the largest and most high profile club sport at MSU,” Bomis said.
The MSU dodgeball team’s growth has been a microcosm of what the Midwest Dodgeball Conference (MDC) has been experiencing. Created in the 2004-2005 season with five charter members – MSU, Ohio State University, The University of DePaul, Delta College and Kent State University – the MDC now has a 12-team league. Including schools as far east as Marshall University and as far west as Nebraska-Omaha, the season runs from November to April featuring regular season match-ups, tournaments and post-season play.
Prominent tournaments include the Michigan Dodgeball Cup, a four-team tournament between intrastate rivals, and MSU captured the tournament title in 2005. In 2006, MSU also won the Chicago Dodgeball Open, a six-team tournament. The regular season concludes with the MDC Postseason tournament in late April, with customary round robin and single elimination tournament style play. All of the teams in the league are invited to attend, although no squad has been able to dethrone Ohio State, who won the postseason playoff in 2005 and 2006.
In last year’s post-season tournament, MSU tied for third with Delta College: a decent finish, but a mark the team hopes to surpass. As for dodgeball growth throughout the state, current dodgeball team presidents are working to develop squads at U-M and Eastern Michigan University. In addition, Western Michigan is very close to joining the MDC.
The evolution of the MSU dodgeball team is no surprise to those who play week in and week out, or those who drop in and watch the team practice every Thursday and Sunday night. This isn’t the same brand of dodgeball many students remember from summer camp or recess after lunch in third grade. It’s an all out battle of wits, strategy and teamwork between two teams of 15 juiced college students living out their athletic pipe dreams that are rarely available after high school is over.
“I originally played for Delta College as just something to do after I saw a flier for it in the hall,” entomology junior Martin Villarreal said. “After my first year of playing, and then transferring to MSU, I figured why not keep going with something I enjoy doing and have lots of fun with.”
But much to the chagrin of Bomis, Villarreal and everyone who has worked so hard to generate growth of the dodgeball team, many members of the MSU community are still unaware the team exists. This idea should change quickly, with the Club Dodgeball team set to provide the halftime entertainment for the MSU vs. Bradley men’s basketball game with a showdown against Oakland University on Dec. 3 at the Breslin Center. The promotional event is one of two entertainment games provided by the relatively new dodgeball club. The other contest will be against the No.1 Ohio State Club Dodgeball team during the halftime of the MSU vs. Ohio State men’s basketball game on Feb. 3.
This integration into the established audience of the men’s basketball team will spread the word about the emergence of dodgeball on campus and is part of the effort of the executive board, stemming from last year. In 2005, the team hosted a six-team tournament that was taped by Comcast and played on cable throughout the Lansing area. There have been sponsorship deals, YouTube Videos, and now this – dodgeball entertainment for 10,000-plus screaming fans at the Breslin.
Still, Bomis wants to do more in terms of promotion before his final year with the dodgeball squad. “The only thing I can think of might be getting (televised on) Fox Sports Detroit or possibly getting in on the Nike contract MSU’s Athletic Department has,” Bomis said.
Without a legitimate possibility of becoming a sanctioned NCAA sport and limited funding, the dodgeball team may have already reached its climax, but that suits Bomis just fine. “To be honest, a lot of the appeal comes from the fact that it’s not mainstream,” Bomis said. “If it becomes about the bureaucracy and not about the game, it loses that appeal. All the things we’ve done, all the hype, all these special events, those are nice things, but it’s about the fun of the game first.”
Even though executive board members find it difficult to get sponsors, raise money, and create playing time for 80 players, some of them still say it’s worth it. “We get to meet, play and interact with people from all class levels and with all sorts of majors,” 2006 graduate and captain Robert Freeman said. “I have made some great friends as a result of dodgeball that otherwise would just be another face on campus.”
Many campus activities are restricted to certain ages or majors, but the club dodgeball team observes no such boundaries. The team leaders are the most satisfied when experienced veterans and rookies mesh during a match, and the players can see the results of their practice and dedication. “The highlights show up when you see it all come together,” Bomis said. “It’s when the freshmen pick up on some technique we’ve tried to teach and they hit an upperclassman in the face. Knowing you had a hand in all that coming to fruition gives you a real good feeling.”
Whether it’s at a practice at the IM West Sports building, a game at the Breslin Center, or at the Midwest Dodgeball League Postseason Tournament in Chicago, when the official calls for the start of the game, 30 bodies will race toward 10 dodgeballs at center court. Then, another installment of the exciting brand of MSU dodgeball will be underway. To the untrained eye, the game will look like an un-choreographed match that can be seen at the gym of a local YMCA. But for those who have watched it develop firsthand, it will be more like a strategic version of the dodgeball seen on the Game Show Network at 3:30 a.m. – just without the goofy team names and uniforms and the creepy announcer with long hair. The game won’t feature celebrities, and it won’t have a flashy court or paparazzi taking photos with high-definition cameras, but it will have the same familiar players that have been practicing for months, donned in the green and white.
Freeman, the floor general, will be taking charge on the front line, blocking every dodgeball thrown near his teammates: if someone drives a Chevy Silverado on the court, he’ll probably block that, too. Sophomore Greg Moy also will be out there, baiting his opponents to throw a ball his way, and with incredible reflexes, he’ll catch every one of them. Assistant captain and fellow sophomore Rob Viola will be there with his signature move: pinching the rubber coating on the ball and gripping it between his thumb and forefinger, the ball spinning out of control when he throws it across the court.
Surrounding those three will be 12 other players with their own unique skills and personal habits. With many of them standing well under 6 feet or 150 pounds, each player wouldn’t be enough to scare a Girl Scout Troop, but together, they are a threatening machine. When they take the court as teammates, they all have one goal – play hard and have fun. Although it is relatively new, the sport of dodgeball certainly has staying power with this kind of mantra, straight from Bomis: “We’ll hit people in the face, we’ll get hit in the face ourselves and we’ll all have some laughs.”