My Dodgeball Story: Nathan Council (SVSU)

I approached Kevin a while ago (he probably stopped believing I’d actually write this) about telling my Dodgeball Story. I read some of the others that have been submitted this summer and it made me want to tell mine. I know there is a story inside of me but I have been struggling with how to tell it. How do I tell my story which is personal but also make it meaningful, insightful, and at least somewhat entertaining to the people reading it that do not know me? I decided to simply go for it and not worry about it. Selfishly, I’m telling this story in hopes that I can move on. I’m hoping that once I am finished I will feel a sense of closure. Closure that I have been missing since I left SVSU in 2014.

 

2010-2011

My story begins in 2010 as a little freshman at Saginaw Valley State University. I don’t remember how but I knew before I even applied, there was collegiate dodgeball. Needless to say, when the first club recruitment event happened, I was looking for the dodgeball table. I found it, gave them my email, and showed up to the first 10pm practice by myself. It was unlike anything I had seen before; people literally grabbing a piece of the dodgeball and throwing it harder than I could ever imagine. You could feel the impact in your chest, like bass at a concert, as the 8.5 inch rubber dodgeball smashed into the padded mat against the wall. It was terrifying, but at the same time, absolutely captivating. I fell in love instantly; dodgeball had me at hello.

The next morning, after my first practice, my finger tips felt like they had gout. The pressure of the water in the shower hurt them and every muscle in my body was sore, but I couldn’t wait to get back. Eventually, I learned how to tape my fingers so that they would be protected and not fly off at the release of the dodgeball. This entire first year was me just trying to survive practices. I loved every second of it.

You see, at this point in my story, dodgeball was an escape for me. I had a bad senior year summer and wasn’t really sure why I was going to college in the first place. On top of being somewhere unfamiliar, with only a few friends at the time, dodgeball was my light at an otherwise bleak time in my life. Any other sport I had played I could play distracted. Get in a fight with a girlfriend and I’d go play basketball for my school and not be affected. Same with football. However, what made dodgeball special was that it required 110% of my attention from start to finish. I had to shut everything out and be in the moment every practice without letting the B.S. flood my mind or else I’d probably get hit in the face. It was such a relief and I couldn’t imagine making it through freshman year without it.

I remember my first ‘big play’ that got me recognized by none other than Spencer Jardine. Still my freshman year, and it was my first tournament at the University of Kentucky. We arrived at the tournament with barely enough players and a handful of freshmen. After a night of debauchery, we eventually ended up playing against Ohio State. I don’t remember names or anything that specific, but what I do remember is that an OSU player was backpedaling after a throw and we countered. I threw across the court toward where I thought an OSU player’s feet were going to end up. I was hoping to get him while he was backing up. Well, someone else threw a ball at him which he dodged by falling backwards and his head ended up landing where my ball was going. If I remember correctly, play had to stop to assess the damage and I ended up knocking his contact out of his eye. It was a pretty solid first headshot and I’m happy I didn’t cause any permanent damage (we all have tiny floaters in our eyes, right?). Anyway, despite feeling bad in the moment, it was nice to get a strong reaction out of my dodgeball peers which made me feel like I was becoming a part of the team. We ended up winning that tournament which was also a bonus.

The rest of my freshman year was pretty uneventful in the dodgeball world. Maybe it wasn’t, who knows. It was 8 years ago at this point. One thing is for sure and that is that I couldn’t wait to go back to SVSU that following year.

OH! How could I forget?! I broke my pinky finger freshman year. Still to this day I can’t fully extend my left pinky finger. I think it happened close to winter break so I had the surgery around Christmas and was recovered enough to resume play at the start of the second semester.

 

2011-2012

My sophomore year was the year I felt like I could prove myself. I understood the strategy, my throws were consistently more accurate, and I was confident communicating if I was one of the last few alive on the court. I felt like I could become a starter on this team. I got close. Made it into the top 20, but never the starting 15.

SVSU won the 2012 NCDA National Championship on their home floor.

Anyone from SVSU reading this knows what happened this year: SVSU won the national championship. Even though I was not part of the starting 15, I was on the 20 man roster for that national tournament and was given playing time during some crucial games and moments. It was an insane tournament with the championship game actually being our final four matchup against Grand Valley. After we won that game we knew we had it in the bag. The University of Kentucky was the championship game opponent, and they forfeited at half-time. In their defense we were riding an insane high and were showing no signs of going easy on them. Can’t say I would’ve done the same thing, but I understand where they were coming from.

Winning that trophy was absolutely incredible. I was happy for myself, the team, and very happy for all the seniors/leaders of the team who worked so hard for some many years to win that trophy. I looked up to all of them and wanted to help continue their legacy and hopefully one day win another championship as one of the starting 15.

 

2012-2013

Junior year was another year of trying to prove myself. This time as a leader. I had pretty much locked in a starting 15 spot after a majority of our star seniors graduated the year prior. I knew I had big shoes to fill and I knew it would take a lot of work both, on and off the court, but I wanted it. I wanted to lead this team more than anything. Never in my life had I felt this strongly about a group of misfit individuals. I cared about every single one of them. I wanted what was best for them, and the team, and I was hoping to prove I was an option. I don’t think at the time I had my eyes set on becoming a captain or an assistant captain, I just knew that I wanted to become the best player I could be to help the team.

I’m trying to think of games or moments that stand out in my mind from this year, but I don’t have the best memory. I don’t even remember where we placed in Nationals that year, embarrassingly true. One thing I am always certain of, is that I grew closer to some of the best friends and teammates a guy could ask for, fell more in love with the sport, and was named an Assistant Captain for the next season.

 

2013-2014

SVSU won the 2014 MDC after beating previously undefeated GVSU 2-1 in the decisive final match.

My jersey now holds a fancy ‘A’, and it doesn’t stand for adultery. I was named an Assistant Captain and the one piece of advice I was given was to not change who I am or the way I play. Sometimes, a player can get caught up in leadership and start worrying about everyone else even during crucial games and it can affect the way they play. This role only made me communicate more, reach out to newer/struggling players, and put in more effort off the court. I wanted to lead by example and be in the gym every day, sprinting off the back line on counters, counting with the shot-clock, all the things that everyone should be doing but sometimes forget. Was I perfect? Knowing me, probably not, but I do know we won the MDC that year which is my proudest moment as a leader on the team. Again, we fell short at Nationals. I’m not one to make excuses but I truly believe that had we played on a better court OR started on the other side of the court we would’ve beaten Grand Valley in the finals. Kudos to GV for having the foresight of examining the court with lopsided back-walls and being strategic enough to start with that wall behind you. It was a great game and a heartbreaking outcome for us.

I cried every time SVSU didn’t reach the outcome we wanted. That’s how I know dodgeball holds a special place in my heart. Any other sport I ever played, if I lost, I dealt with it by telling myself some excuse to help me get over it and I wouldn’t let it affect me for more than an hour or so. Dodgeball is a different story. Every loss came with such an intense amount of emotions because I wanted to win and worked to win, and it was heartbreaking for me, to see my teammates in that kind of emotional distress as well. I love those players and the team and wanted to see them all succeed. Every high was very high and every low came with more emotions than I could handle but it also told me to work even harder next time.

 

2014

My “senior” year at SVSU I was named Head Captain of the team. I achieved something I had never achieved before, and that was being responsible for a large group of very passionate people for which I cared deeply. I wanted so badly to meet their expectations and my own. I had never been a captain before and I underestimated how much responsibility it was. I had other teams emailing within the first 3 weeks of summer talking about tournaments, SVSU faculty members asking if we wanted to participate in different recruitment events, putting our name in a large hat for practice times, and I also decided to start going through a very conveniently timed identity crisis. I started questioning everything in my life. Up to this point I was going to school for Criminal Justice but how many times can one take a test on the constitution before wanting to drop-out of school? I don’t know the answer, but I had hit my limit. I didn’t know what I was going to school for, or what I wanted to do with my life, and it started affecting everything. Most importantly it started affecting dodgeball.

Dodgeball started to decline for me. It stopped becoming an escape and started becoming something I wanted to escape from. For me, it was very difficult to corral a group of passionate individuals. Every time there was an aggressive outburst, someone kicked a trash can, stormed out of practice, yelled at another player (not constructively), I blamed myself. Each practice made me feel more and more like a failure and made it look like the team was falling apart and I didn’t have the first clue about how to handle it. I had alumni asking me, “what happened at practice today? Why did so-and-so post that in the Facebook group?” and I would usually not respond. I couldn’t face the fact that the team was falling apart with me at the helm. I couldn’t handle that I felt personally responsible for destroying the one thing that I held so close to my heart. So, I did the only logical thing someone in my situation would do being faced with questioning my life, my motives, and everything around me; I started drinking a lot and auditioned for a play. You see, dodgeball was no longer giving me a rush, it wasn’t a solution to my problems because it was becoming one of my problems. I had to find a new group of friends and a new exciting thing to distract me from my issues. In retrospect, I probably auditioned for the play so I could have an excuse to not be around the people that I felt like I was only letting down. I’d see my teammates in the hallway and I would turn the other way and find a different way to class. I straight up wouldn’t show up to classes that I had with other teammates. I couldn’t be around them and I was starting to not be able to be around myself. To this day, I still feel guilty when I’m around people whose last season I ruined and that there’s nothing I can do to give those people their final season back and I’m sorry that I wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility.

I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t know how to fight it, I didn’t know how to keep my head up. So I let it consume me, because that was easier. I know some people may be thinking, “why didn’t you ask your assistant captains for help?” and the answer is I don’t know. I had support systems in place, but I didn’t feel like I should have to use them. I could’ve easily reached out to prior captains and explain my concerns and worked out a plan but I was already too far gone for rational thinking. I was self-destructing because it was so much easier to hide than it was to face my problems.

This all ends up with me checking myself into a hospital for 5 days and 4 nights. I was drunk more than I wasn’t, and I acted in ways I never thought I would act and I did it directly in front of my teammates. If they had any respect for me leading up to the end of 2014 I’m sure I s*** on it and lit it on fire. I dropped out of SVSU and forced an already extremely busy Max Siler back into a disaster of a captain position in his final semester of his degree.

I’m sorry that this isn’t a happy ending story. Like I said, I’m writing this for myself and to hopefully shed some light onto my final semester on the SVSU dodgeball team. There are some positives: I met some of the most amazing people, travelled the country to see campuses I otherwise wouldn’t have seen, and I learned how to be more responsible and juggle multiple responsibilities without feeling like I’m barely above water. I learned that a leader is nothing without their support team. I should’ve utilized those amazing men and women more.

Dodgeball was something I was very confident in and now it falls under an insecurity. Whenever I am with friends and former teammates and we start to reminisce I pretend I was never a captain and I become tense and afraid at the thought of someone bringing up that 2014 season.

Despite all of this and the outcome, I still love dodgeball but I feel almost unwelcome at this point. My body sure as hell couldn’t handle it anymore and I feel like I don’t deserve it. Maybe one day I’ll get over my failures. It’s tough when you don’t meet expectations for something you care so deeply about, ya know? I’m currently working on a screenplay about the NCDA because this group of amazing athletes deserves to be recognized by something other than the following phrase: “Oh, you play dodgeball. Like the movie?”

No. Not even close.

 

Author: Kevin Bailey

Current NCDA Chief of Content. Former Captain for Grand Valley State University (#4).

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