For our newest installment in the “My Dodgeball Story” series, we turn to Shadeed Drakeford, founder of the VCU Dodgeball Club. Here he tells his story about the creation of the team, his experiences while being the leader of the team, and the new role he has on the team.
By: Shadeed Q. Drakeford
A long time ago after the annual Chick-fil-A dodgeball tournament in Richmond, VA, my best friend Micheal Tse and I were walking back to my apartment talking about dodgeball and the possibility of playing after our college days were done. This took place in October 2011, several months after the historical Final Four run by VCU in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. The conversation started off very casually and jokingly with talks of playing semi-professionally along the East Coast with the potential of winning cash prizes or free food. After all, who doesn’t like free food? Yet, small talk created curiosity in me, and I stumbled across a hidden gem which has been around since 2004, the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association (NCDA).
In December 2011 as a Christmas present to myself, I completed all of the paperwork that was necessary to have the Dodgeball Club at VCU as an official student organization. Little did I know my life would never be the same again. When I first came to VCU, there was actually a very big showing for people who wanted to play. Back then, we exclusively played what we called “medic” dodgeball against other students and it would bring in large crowds of people. But over time, dodgeball at VCU was shrinking in size every single year. It started out strong with at least 100 people playing medic dodgeball every Friday from 2-4:30 p.m. in my freshman year to only 20 people playing medic dodgeball three times a week in my junior year. Once I made the club in those later years, the purpose of the club was to create some stability and a strong perception of the sport around VCU, so that we would have some gym time every week. For anyone who has ever attended VCU, dodgeball time was always cut short on a weekly basis due to soccer, and never really got the respect it deserved compared to the other sports.
My First Match
My first match within the NCDA was against James Madison University (JMU) on April 28 2012, not too long after JMU’s 1st year in the NCDA. The odds were definitely not in our favor. I brought 10 players with me and JMU had a full 20 players with them. My team had little practice time due to the restrictions at the gym, and we only practiced with foam balls, because at the time we weren’t allowed to use rubber balls. Did I also mention the fact that NONE of us had any concept of what pinching was? NONE OF US.
It was a classic case of David vs Goliath, but David didn’t win in this battle. The score was 11-0 before my team asked to play medic with rubber dodgeballs. It was fun, reckless, and savage. Yet, that tournament told me an important lesson, VCU had a lot of work to do in order to be considered a serious contender within the league.
The following semester, Fall 2012, sophomore Adam Hallers and freshman Matthew Bosco would join the team. I knew they both would be special for the program as both administrators and players, so I took them under my wing to make sure VCU Dodgeball would be in the right hands. For the next two years, our team steadily improved, yet failed to put all of the pieces together that would be necessary to achieve good success as a team. For two whole years, from Spring 2012 to Spring 2014, our team lost every single match that we played in.
As the founder of this club and former president/captain, I can easily relate to the frustrations, growing pains, and disappointments that Mr. Caleb Arnold faced with his club at Ohio Dodgeball. It takes a special individual with a vision bigger than themselves, with a lot of resilience, patience, and dedication to persuade your team with 10-20 people to travel to dodgeball tournaments. This was even worse for my team KNOWING we would lose the majority of our games. I had to keep the team’s spirits high not only for myself, but for my teammates as well. In my eyes, most people have no problem being the leader of an organization that wins all the time. It feels better to win than to lose. Like Coach Edwards said, “You play to win the game!” But show me an individual that handles defeat gracefully time and time again, and I will show you a leader who is able to maintain their bearing in the midst of conflict.
As time passed, I grew closer with more and more of my teammates. This includes people like Adam Hallers, Matthew Bosco, Sam Lammie, Eveonna Ruffner, Harrison Schramm and Darnell Myrick, who all joined during that 2 year losing streak I mentioned before. I knew my time was coming to an end, but I found something with this small group I was unable to find with previous teams in the past, unity. For the first time, we were a team from different backgrounds and different walks of life that appreciated, respected, and looked out for one another. The loyalty and personal courage I have established with my team isn’t something that can be measured in wins or losses, or easily explained in words. It is something that could only be explained in the heart through admiration, emotions, and actions.
The Turning Point
I wish that I could say I left my team in the best of situations, but sadly that was not the case. In Fall 2014, now President/Head Captain Adam Hallers and Vice President/Assistant Captain Matthew Bosco had a huge task on their hands. They only had 6 returning players, were only able to practice once per week, and received little monetary assistance from VCU’s Student Government. Despite their situation, they used their knowledge of the game from the past two years, along with their enthusiasm to bring a change within the organization from the inside out. This was and probably always be the VCU way. In my personal life, I’ve always viewed myself as the underdog who gets overlooked on many occasions, much like my team and school. Given their circumstances, it would’ve been easy for them to just fold and give up, but they never did. This is how I knew I chose the right successors.
They took the initiative on behalf of the club and infused some of their leadership traits within the players of the club such as unselfishness, decisiveness, dependability, and integrity. The unselfishness to look out for your teammates the same way one would look out for their siblings. The decisiveness to make good decisions in stressful situations without delay. The dependability that everyone would consistently be putting their best effort to achieve the highest standards of performance. The integrity to stand up for what is right not only in the game of dodgeball, but in life as well.
Within their first full year of leadership, they were able to recruit 25 players on the team with the majority of them being underclassmen. That lead to their first win in NCDA history that year, along with their first trip to Nationals at Western Kentucky University. They were successful in creating a family environment within the club that performed community service throughout the city of Richmond. The seeds that were planted from the founder to these young leaders were finally coming into fruition.
This was my first year away from the club, and I acted more as an advisor to the program instead of a player/captain like in the years before. I watched my team play at Nationals via livestream and I saw the growth of my teammates. I visited the team from time to time within that school year, and I was happy to see how much each player on the team improved. Players like Hunter Ford, Torao Ota, Nick Taylor, Bobby Allison, Minh-Quan Pham, and Jason Huang came into their own when they were just freshmen at the time. For the first time in what seemed like forever, VCU was on the path on becoming a complete team.
A Team On The Rise
Within Adam and Matthew’s second year of leadership, I was able to return back to the team as a graduate student and saw a change within my teammates. They were together and ready for the new season. In Fall 2015, we were able to recruit 55 total members for the team and continued to build off from what was started the previous year. We were finally getting the respect we worked so hard for, and were even able to get two nights of practice. We increased our freshmen recruiting class with key players such as Tre Edmonds, RJ Morgan, Wayne Shortt, Andrew Galloway, Lakota Smith, and Melvin Portillo. It was around October 2015 that I saw the potential of this team and how successful we could become.
I believe the biggest turning point came in the Spring semester that year. For many people within the league, it came as a HUGE surprise that VCU defeated Maryland three straight times and played better overall against our opponents this semester. However, it wasn’t a surprise to me or my teammates at all. I knew by the way we played at the Maryland Invite in November 2015 that we were ready to move to the next step.
It isn’t hard to believe in your teammates when you understand how much they have grown as individuals both on and off the court. Adam and Matthew, two strong leaders who are highly dependable, who have strong endurance physically and mentally. Hunter, the young leader who motivates and inspires his teammates to become better versions of themselves. Tre, RJ, and Wayne, members of the “squad” who were always ready to do battle against anyone. Nick, Bobby, Sam, and Andrew, individuals who display personal courage in the heat of battle. Lakota and Melvin, individuals who are the embodiment of persistence and dedication. Torao, Minh-Quan, and Jason, three of the most crafty and resilient players I have ever played with. And of course, I want to give a shout out to our lady players. These are some of the grittiest women I have seen in a long time. They don’t back down from anybody, and they are the embodiment of courage and enthusiasm. Don’t underestimate them, they are a force to be reckoned with.
Despite the strides we made to gain recognition and appreciation throughout the league, we were still not getting the respect I believed we deserved. Going into Nationals we had our three team draw with Bowling Green, Akron, and Ohio State. I remember watching the live video of the games and predictions taking place, and felt nothing but disgust. We were picked to lose every game on that live stream, and it was tough for me to think the efforts I put in were enough. We were able to prove some people wrong with our first ever Nationals victory over Akron. Even with that I wasn’t satisfied, and I think that’s a good thing. Our expectations had risen to a point where we went into every game knowing that we could compete. This is the difference in the mindset of a good team, versus a weak team. We went from the nobody team that was never taken seriously to a team that could perform at a competitive level.
Becoming A True Program
We were now in a brand new season following what we believed to be a successful 2015-2016 season. Adam Hallers had now graduated, leaving the team in Hunter Ford’s hands for the remainder of his time at VCU. I was excited to return to the team once again as a graduate student, and knew we could put together something special. From Fall 2014 to Spring 2016 Adam was the only player we lost who attended Nationals, and while I knew he’d be missed, it meant our team was in a great position to become true savages on the court.
The difference between where we are now and where we were is night and day. As I said before, when I first started the club we were limited in every way. We only had 10 players total, no funding from our school, and could only practice with foam balls on an indoor soccer court. Seeing us host our own home tournament at VCU for the very first time brought tears to my eyes. It was a true benchmark of how much we achieved in what has been almost 5 full years. On top of that, we got 3 practices per week on actual basketball courts and even sponsors for our team.
This was stuff I could only dream about when I first made the team all those years ago. I’m fortunate I still get to play side-by-side with such great players, and get to influence even the new era of VCU Dodgeball by supporting some of our youngest guys like Kelvonte Nesmith, Dane Aggen, and Johnny Dell’Angelo.
As a seasoned veteran on the team, I’m proud of what my teammates have accomplished on the court. But to be honest with you, I’m more proud of what kind of individuals they are off the court. The integrity they have displayed when they are helping our local communities, the unselfishness when helping out different organizations, the loyalty they have shown to one another, cannot be compared.
I’m proud to be your teammate, but most importantly, I’m more proud to be your friend.