My Dodgeball Story: Cody Putnam (SVSU)

For our final My Dodgeball Story of the summer, we selected Mr. Putnam to send us off. Cody was known for his loud demeanor on/off the court, and for his immense leadership at SVSU over the course of his career. He tied up his laces this past Spring, and we will surely miss his antics, and overall true character for years to come…

First thing’s first, I’m no Kevin Bailey when it comes to my writing ability. I probably won’t have a chronological order to any of this, a lot of my dodgeball career is a fast paced blur, and to be completely honest, I don’t remember when exactly everything happened, but I’ll do my best. Zigmas, you can fact check anything you want, if necessary. Read at your own risk!

So here goes nothing,  My Dodgeball Story

Solid action shot of Cody when he was Captain in 2016

Of course I started playing dodgeball in elementary/middle school like 99% of this crazy community. We were extremely competitive. Middle School P.E. led to days of not talking to your best friends because you beat them, lost to them, gave them a nice head shot, whatever. It was cutthroat. We were an extremely athletic group, so it was always down to the wire, fast-paced action. Freshman year of high school comes around, and we just stopped playing dodgeball.  It was banished from lesson plans for a lot of schools, especially today. It’s a travesty if you ask me.

So here I am, a freshman at Albion College, running college Cross Cross Country, then running track in the Spring. A dream come true for me, having been an All-State 800m runner in high school, right? Wrong. I hated everything about college athletics. To be fair, I loved the people, the coaching, everything like that, but I absolutely hated being told I had to be here for this study group, two-a-day practices starting at 5AM, class all day, then sprinting back to 3PM practice. The anxiety of performing well, or losing your spot, I couldn’t stand it. Completely miserable, I found Saginaw Valley State University, one of the most affordable Universities in Michigan, with a modern feel, and great facilities. I was instantly in love. I only visited one time, applied, was accepted, and never looked back. I played basketball every single day my first year at SVSU. I would occasionally see some of the dodgeball guys, but that was a completely different world to me. No way I would ever play dodgeball again. I remember thinking, “They can’t be serious?” Wrong again.

Going into the 2012-13 school year, I was technically an upperclassman, meaning my housing options upgraded dramatically. A good friend and I went in blind hoping for the best. It was pure fate, destiny, divine intervention, whatever you believe in that my roommate that year turned out to be one of the biggest names in dodgeball, a living legend in the sport.

Spencer Jardine.

Cody seen here with Spencer Jardine back in 2014

Anyone that’s been around dodgeball, knows Spencer. One of the greatest competitors and talents dodgeball has seen. This guy’s my roommate now. The first thing I see him move in was a huge bag of 8.5 rubber dodgeballs. Oh great, one of these dodgeball guys is my roommate. He recruited, and recruited, and recruited me some more, but I was too proud to go play dodgeball. We started having parties, he made me go to the hockey games, and I got to know all of his friends, all of the people in his life that he loved and cherished. I started getting closer and closer to them all. These people all had two things in common: They all played or loved dodgeball, and they had the biggest hearts of any group of people I’d ever seen. Spencer would even come to my IM Basketball games in an attempt to sway me to come play dodgeball afterwards. It was almost 6 months of being asked and asked to come play dodgeball by everyone on the team before I finally budged. Maybe they’d stop bugging me about playing if I just went. Turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

Take a second to realize who was on this dodgeball team. Grizzled veterans of the sport. In no particular order, Spencer Jardine, Jason Stein, Jordan Elliot, Bryan Janick, Grayson Hood, Mike Sharp, Torrie Peplinski, Josh Brettrager, Ryan Schian, Myles Shephard, Kyle Foster. Some of the most elite talent in dodgeball. And guess what, they didn’t take it easy on me, or each other. I picked up the gorilla grip relatively quick, getting a few kills here and there, and then one of the scariest thing happened to me. Myles Shephard countered me in the neutral zone. POINT BLANK. If this has ever happened to you, I’m sorry, I feel your pain. He wasn’t messing around either. Head-shots guaranteed, right? I pinned that ball against the right side of my face and held on with everything I had. He destroyed my face, but I caught it, damn near knocking me on my ass. When Spencer and a few other started yelling and jumping around, I fell in love with the sport. Right then and there. I don’t think I missed another practice all year. I didn’t get to actually play during that Nationals, but I was definitely part of that team, and they all made me feel like I belonged.

I don’t really know what happened along the way, but I started feeling lost. Emotionally and mentally, I just started feeling down and could not shake it. I was eventually diagnosed with general depression. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, I started hating school, missed classes, didn’t really care about much. I only told a few very close friends, but I didn’t really want people to know. The silly thing is, they would have been there to help me through anything. But on those Monday and Wednesday nights, you better believe I knew exactly where I wanted to be. The one constant in my life at that time was Dodgeball and those amazing people were my saviors. 

POINT BLANK shot

Enter my reputation. How did I become the trash talking, hot head that everyone came to know and love? All of that emotion was always there and I couldn’t get rid of it. I was, however, able to release all of that frustration on the dodgeball court. I could just let it all go by throwing at you as hard as I possibly could, or making a demoralizing catch and making sure you knew about it. See, you can’t do that on a basketball court. I was thrown out of multiple IM Basketball games during this time. Shocker, right? I was just so angry and sad and upset all at the same time, and I had no clue why. I *usually* had a great attitude in practice, barring a few small quarrels, but you guys, my opponents, you saw the “Villain” I was every time you played me and my Cardinals. Paired with the fact that I’ve never really cared what people think about me, its not hard to see why I would blindly let my mouth fly, and not even care who it offended (Sorry, GV parents, truly). I say what I’m thinking, and the consequences can be dealt with later. The difference with me, is that I would hold a grudge on and off the court. Wes Peters, I’m looking at you, buddy. Most of the league were great friends off the court, and I couldn’t stand that. To me,  that’s the enemy. But I loved that most people hated playing against me. It was my goal. I talk a lot of shit over on this side, and make you lose control for just a split second, allowing me to give my guys a chance to knock your head off. Like an angry chess match. I loved having a target on my head from the start. You either took care of me fast, or I was in your face the entire game.

Cody @ UK Nationals in 2017

Don’t get me wrong, players from every team being friends off the court is an amazing thing. It makes this league such a tight knit group, and created such an amazing experience, evolving over the years into something bigger than I thought possible. I just didn’t realize that until my last year or so, when everything started slowing down for me. I truly appreciate everyone in the league, the love we have for another, on an off the court, and how competitive the league still is despite that. That’s just not how I thought for a lot of my career. Another huge part of my reputation was my physical toughness, for lack of a better term. This really wouldn’t be “My Dodgeball Story” if I didn’t talk about my injuries, would it?  They have seriously devastated my body over the years. I tore my labrum, still played. UCL sprain, played. Torn calf muscle, played. Blind in my left eye? Played. I think I broke my elbow one year too, played for two more months before Autumn (my girlfriend) and the surgeon forced me to get it repaired. I believe it was O’Brien who posted my favorite picture of my entire career.

If I could be out there playing with my team, I was going to be out there. Literally no one could stop me, so they all learned not to try. I hope they appreciated it, because I certainly feel the wear and tear I put on my body every day. The pathetic thing is that I’d go back and start all over again right now. I just love this damn game so much. The most difficult year was when I was selected as one of the captains of the SVSU team, I believe that was the year I broke my elbow. I know I was not an easy captain to play for. Being very hard on the team was my attempt at preparing them all for the insane amount of discipline and elite performance it would take to down the GVSU juggernaut. And I know for a fact that it lead to a lot of people quitting the team or hating me. I’ll take the blame for some of that. But those that stayed were the types of players I wanted to represent SVSU on the court. Strong willed, mentally tough players are hard to find and SVSU’s reputation of playing extremely well at nationals and MDC prove that we did our job. So, for those that stuck it out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  

I could gush about all of the great battles I had on the dodgeball court, or the plays I made, but it was always about more than that to me. Win or lose, I had an amazing family and I will never forget any that stood by my side on the line. I think I started seeing that in my last two years of play. I’ll admit, my arm was never 100% after my elbow surgery and that made me take a step back and realize what I had in front of me. I tried to mend a lot of the off court relationships that I never allowed to happen, and I think I’ve done a decent job of it. Wes Peters, again, looking at you. I tried to be a lot warmer and approachable, especially while at VCU, and I hoped that could change a few people’s attitudes towards me. I left it all out there every time I played, and I couldn’t have asked for a better, crazier game and group of people to spend the last of my collegiate career around. This league means the world to me, the people in it mean even more, and I hope it continues to thrive and evolve for the better. Anyone reading this belongs to something bigger than yourself, so don’t throw it away. Play your hearts out and take the time out of your next practice to take it all in and enjoy this beautiful game. Never forget that if you ever need anything, this group will always be there for you, through the good and the bad.

Cody @ his final Nationals at VCU in April 2018

Lastly,  I want to thank my girlfriend, Autumn, for taking such good care of me the last three years of my career. From keeping me on track in my final college years, to helping me get out of bed after a huge tournament. I couldn’t have gotten through it all if not for your help and guidance. I love you to the moon and back.

P.S. If any of you still have unfinished business with me, come find me on the Elite courts. Best believe I’ll be ready.

Author: Jacob Leski

Former President of Central Michigan's Club Dodgeball team. 2x First Team All-American (2015, 2016). 2nd year as Director of League Expansion and Retention.

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