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 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. Because who doesn’t like free food after a tournament? Yet, small talk created curiosity in me, and I stumbled across a hidden secret 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 organization. Little did I know my life would never be the same again. At the 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. Back then, the purpose of the club was to create some stability with the perception of the sport around VCU, so that we would have some gym time every week. For anyone who has ever attended VCU, you know that dodgeball time was cut short on a weekly basis due to soccer.
My 1st match within the NCDA was against James Madison University on April 28th 2012, just weeks after JMU’s 1st year in the NCDA. I brought 10 players with me and JMU had at least 20 players with them. My team had little practice time due to the restrictions at the gym, and we were used to using foam balls, not rubber 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. For the next two years, the team would gain individual success from their players yet failed to put all of the pieces together that would be necessary to achieve good success from a team. From Fall 2012 to Spring 2014, the team lost every single match that they 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 faces 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 KNOWING you will lose the majority of your games. Yet, you have to keep your spirits high not only for yourself, but for your teammates as well. In my eyes, most people have no problem being a 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 Adam Hallers, Matthew Bosco, Sam Lammie, Eveonna Ruffner, Harrison Schramm and Darnell Myrick. 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 1st 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 the core of 6 isn’t something that can’t 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
In Fall 2014, 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.
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 1st year of leadership, they were able to recruit 25 players on the team with the majority of them being underclassmen. They were able to get their 1st win in NCDA history that year, along with their 1st trip to Nationals in 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.
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 coming into their own who were just freshmen at the time. For the 1st time in a long time, VCU was on the path on becoming a complete team.
Coming full circle
Within Adam and Matthew’s 2nd year of leadership, I returned back to the team as a graduate student and saw a change within my teammates, prime and ready for the new season. This year, we were able to recruit 55 members for the team and continue to build off from what was started the previous year. We were able to get two nights of practice. We have 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.
For many of the people within the league, it came as a HUGE surprise that VCU defeated Maryland three straight times in the 2nd semester 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 take 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.
Last but not least, 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.
As a seasoned veteran on the team, I’m proud of what my teammates has 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.