To be honest, when Leski asked me if I was interested in writing a post for this, I was pretty surprised he had thought me relevant enough to write about my experience in the NCDA. I love this league, I love dodgeball, and I’m humbled to share with everyone my time playing for the Redhawks. It’s definitely a different route than most have taken throughout their playing careers, so hopefully it’s a semi-entertaining read…
I actually began playing dodgeball “seriously” (emphasis on the air quotes) in high school. I grew up in Beavercreek, a suburb of Dayton OH, and played baseball through high school, though you could argue by the time I graduated I was more enthusiastic about dodgeball than anything. A church in Dayton would put on a semi-annual, 6v6, no-sting dodgeball tournament that would end up with anywhere from 30-50 teams entering. I was a part of “The Breakmen” and we went to 4 straight championships between my junior and senior year, winning 2 Golden Wrenches! (I still have them displayed on a shelf in my room back home)
Once I decided to attend Miami, I knew I wanted to continue playing sports and looked up what club sports they had to offer. I saw we had a club dodgeball team and knew that was the first thing I’d be looking for when I got to school. Moved to campus, figured out when club sports fair was, and signed myself up.
Freshmen Year (2013-2014)
For anyone who played in the NCDA back in 2013 or before that, most of you know Miami wasn’t exactly what you’d describe as competitive. When I had first signed up, the team had told me that we were top 25 in the nation the year before…I later learned there were only 25 (if that) many teams in the nation at that point.
I didn’t care, I loved playing with that team; the fact that I literally got to not only play, but even practice dodgeball several days a week was the coolest thing ever to me (still is today, TBH). I was meeting new people and learning that what I thought was dodgeball in high school was nothing close to what the college level brought.
The team itself, as I said, was pretty rough. We had a group of seniors who were all friends and had played since they were freshmen, and they hadn’t really bothered to do much recruiting throughout their 4 years on the team. When I joined, we had only one junior, two sophomores, and one other freshmen who actually ended up not playing in any sort of tournament. We pretty much only played with ten players at any tournament we travelled to; the only game we won my freshmen year I believe was against Towson at James Madison’s tournament. However, we only showed up with 9 players so the game still counted as a forfeit and I finished my freshmen year with the same winning percentage my beloved Browns had last season.
The season was obviously not successful in terms of results, but as a whole was still a blast; we were relatively competitive in some games, brutally murdered in others (I think we lost to MSU by double digits at Nationals), but getting to play serious, competitive dodgeball was all that mattered to me.
Sophomore and Junior Year (2014-2016)
By the time freshmen year wrapped up, the junior on the team had quit, one of the sophomores had transferred, and the other one wanted no part of being in charge; he told me to shoot him a message if I managed to find an entirely new team, otherwise he was out. Our old captain, Rory McIlroy, put everything in my name on our dodgeball account, and I was on my own.
I don’t know the full history of the NCDA…but I don’t think the position I was in is common, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to go from first year player on a (relatively) full team, to being the sole returnee and in charge of it all. I was studying abroad that spring, and had joined a service fraternity and was in a leadership position there as well. I didn’t want to put together a half-ass team that wouldn’t work out, so I told Ziggy and Miami that we wouldn’t be playing that season, though I’d like to stay on as the main point of contact for an eventual return.
I was busy with life and school, but greatly missed dodgeball. I was still in the Captains’ Group on Facebook, reading through scores and polls as that was my only source of dodgeball in my life. My junior year I eventually assumed a VP position of my service fraternity, and oversaw the pledging process of what ended up being a 100+ person pledge class that fall. That position required a ton of organization, management, and patience that greatly helped me out when I decided to tell Ziggy and Leski that spring that I would be re-starting the dodgeball team for my senior year (I like to think this is the moment the Boys are Back in Town would begin playing in the movie version of my life).
Senior Year (2016-2017)
I spent the spring of my junior year learning the ins and outs of what it would take to restart the dodgeball team. Finances, health waivers, officer meetings, fundraisers, it was a little overwhelming. I needed help. The morning of Club Sports Fair to start senior year, I literally ran into a girl I had been friends with for a few years, Kasey Marenco, as she was leaving the gym and I was setting up a trifold that said “Miami Dodgeball” and had a singular picture of the old team and another picture of just a generic dodgeball (it was brutal). I convinced her on the spot to join the team and assume the role as “Coach” (she later became Assistant Captain / VP and was a HUGE help in seeing through the success of that first year as an entirely revamped team).
My experience from spearheading the recruitment/pledge process of the service fraternity I had been a part of played a huge part in my overall strategy and attitude for trying to get at least 15 players to commit to play dodgeball, knowing that the bulk of my audience was going to be from only one class (freshmen). It was all a numbers game, and I needed a huge outreach if I was going to land 15 devoted players. I spoke to pretty much every person there at the sports fair, even if they were trying to just walk on by my booth. With the help of Kasey and some friends who had volunteered to help me work the booth, we ended with 150 names and emails to follow up with. We managed to get somewhere around 50 to show up for that first practice, and from there, retained roughly about 25ish to start the season.
Our first tournament went about as much as you’d expect a “first year” team to do, though we did have a bit of an advantage since I did know the rules/style a bit better than someone who had never seen a game before (though I was certainly rusty). What stood out to me was how competitive and mean this “new” Miami team was. I remember the very first game we played; we were down 4-0 or so at halftime (to Akron I believe?), and Adam or Colby came over to me privately and asked if we wanted to play for fun, end the game, mix up teams, etc. I ran back to my team to ask them in the huddle. I can’t remember who said it, but the first words out of anyone’s mouth was “F*** that”, and that was the unanimous consensus of everyone in that circle, right from that first game. After that, regardless of score, the guys on our team were hungry to earn every point, and played with an attitude that I think ultimately made us better competitors and pushed everyone forward as players.
The rest of that season went fairly standard I felt as far as new teams or re-vamped teams go. We scored our first official NCDA point against a mix of UK’s Varsity and JV team, got our first W against Marietta, and another win later against Cleveland State*. At Nationals we took Ohio State to the wire in the first round of the tournament, a game in which I like to think we made Jeff Starr almost shit himself.
*We also lost our boy Tom Morand for half the year to Mono, causing him to absolutely get robbed for potential Rookie of the Year or All-Ohio honors. Think we would have won at least another game or two with him in there.
Overall our record wasn’t anything to write home about, but the team got better every practice, every game, and every tournament, and I think that was my favorite thing about my senior year. Watching guys gradually begin falling in love with the game, investing in “dodgeball shoes”, gloves, knee pads, etc. Taking care of their arms and icing after tournaments. Those were things that no one on our team my freshmen year did, and I think the overall lack of care is what bred the environment that led to me being the only one left on the team as a sophomore. The guys on this new team cared a crap ton, and wanted to be recognized in NCDA circles as being something to take serious*.
*I’d also like to give a special shout out to Kevin Bailey for giving the team extra motivation at the end of 2017 Nationals, leaving us unranked in the “way too early top 25” for the following year, putting in west coast (!!) teams that had yet to play a single point.
For anyone who is in the middle of either a serious rebuild or just starting a new team, the biggest piece of advice I can offer is to make sure that the team you build is a team off the court as well as on. That sounds really cheesy I know, but my freshmen year no one really hung out once dodgeball practice was over, outside of that large senior class. We were friends on the court, but I didn’t even know some of those guys’ first or real names (depending on what nickname we called them at practice), let alone spend time with them outside of practice.
The second time around, I made sure we had periodic dinners after practice, went out uptown together – we even signed up for yoga classes that the team would go to! Everyone became a family. I almost died on a wilderness spring break trip in Utah with Bobby Bennett my senior year, Austin Michael (new VP for the team) is good friends and roommates with upcoming sophomore Henry Ferguson. Tom Morand signed a lease with a few guys on the team, and Will McKnight found love with the one and only Ellie Wallace. I watched Megan Warner go from a former soccer player to a straight badass and leader who might be the angriest person out there on the court when she plays.
I obviously wish I could have played more seasons in the NCDA and racked up a couple more wins or personal achievements. However, I’m damn proud of the team Miami is becoming, and I hope I was able to provide enough starting infrastructure so that the team can continue to grow and expand, rather than fall back into the place it was when I first started as a freshmen.
Huge shout out to Bobby Bennett for putting Miami on the map and gaining notoriety with some big wins last season leading the team, and I’m extremely excited to see where the team heads with Tom Morand at the helm. The bulk of the team is still only juniors this year, and from what I heard, we recruited some pretty savo freshmen last year who are going to do some big things this coming season. Skies the limit for this team, and I’m glad to have been a part of it. I certainly have some lasting memories, as well as a bad-ass bobble head the team made me as a parting gift. You can find it sitting on my desk at work now in Chicago, and you can certainly bet that every single person in the office knows about the NCDA.
Hopefully this article is long enough to satisfy your addiction temporarily for new dodgeball reading material, Tom. Miss ya buddy.