Blue Demons Focus on Fun

Story by: Ben Rusch

DePaul University, located in scenic Chicago, is a unique team within the NCDA. Whereas many teams focus on the competitive aspect of the sport, the Blue Demons tend to focus on the fun and ridiculous nature of a bunch of undergraduates playing a child’s game.

Several players take a keen interest on inventing complicated (and usually impractical) trick throws, including The Awesome, The Amazing, and The Mexican Flying Coffin Filler. The spectacular failures and the shocking successes of throws like these are equally entertaining.

In terms of tournament play, DePaul is in a rebuilding phase.

Last season’s National team sported two seniors and 14 players with no prior tournament experience. While numeric successes from Ohio State were limited, we were able to hang out with our good buddies at Michigan State, and our new friend “Chris” from GVSU.

DePaul-style dodgeball has significant differences in game play than most schools in an effort to increase the pace and intensity of the game.

For example, a catch does not eliminate the thrower (though one person from the catching team’s jail returns to the court), and boundary lines (excluding the neutral zone) tend to be fluid.

The basic core belief of Blue Demon Dodgeball is that it’s a game, and while no game should be taken too seriously, dodgeball should probably be taken even less seriously.

When it stops being fun, the reason for grown men and women to throw rubber kickballs at each other ceases to be.

Is Dodgeball Sexist?

I love dodgeball with all of my heart but it seems to me that the NCDA is geared for the guys because most of the decision making is done by guys. Even the throws are geared toward a male grip. I wonder whether dodgeball could be a more diverse sport with a healthy mixture of males and females. Maybe it isn’t. The few girls in the NCDA may have to become guys to even be competitive. Also the fact that girls are vastly underestimated as players is bothersome mainly because I have been conditioned to pick out the girls as easy outs because thats what the rest of my team does. I have seen girls that have canons (due to softball I’m guessing). I’ve seen girls with great hands. I’ve seen girls that are great blockers (usually their main function). So why are we not seen as a player to look out for? We play just as hard as the guys and we deserve to be recognized for our efforts. Hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this sport is truly for the guys but I hope that in the future we can appreciate everyone no matter what kind of reproductive organs they have.

Our current nationals format the best?

I can’t help but wonder if the way we run the national tournament at the end of the year is the best way to crown a champion. Currently, the way we do things we have all the teams come and play three games on Saturday, which pretty much destroys everyone’s arms. So what happens the next day? You come right back and can possibly play another three games.

It’s almost as if it’s a marathon of dodgeball, to see who can last the longest. While, I think Grand Valley was obviously a deserving champion this year, and would have most likely won it had they been forced to play 11 games the first day I still have to draw it into question.

What other sport does something like this? Outside of the time your beer league softball team decides to go to a softball tournament and plays 8 games in two days, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a sport that crowns it’s champions similarly.

Though there is always the argument that comes up that is hard to fight, in that teams want to play everyone they can at nationals because it’s the only time of year they see a lot of the teams. Well, the simple solution to that would be to host several small tournaments throughout the year. If nationals was limited to the amount of teams going maybe teams would feel like they actually needed to schedule a game or two throughout the year.

So what is my solution? Followers of my blog know that I have always been an advocate for regional tournaments that take place 1-4 weeks before nationals. The top 1 or 2 teams from each regional advance to Nationals. Then instead of having over 10 teams at nationals, and maybe even a few more junior varsity teams (what other national tournament allows JV teams???) you have teams that deserve to be there. Then when you say you go to the national tournament it actually means something. It gives your team something to work towards. I know there are people that disagree with me, but that’s fine. There will probably come a day someday along the line that you realize I’m on to something.

Reliving Nationals

Before April 4, 2009, the concept of Dodgeball Nationals was very foreign to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I had ideas of what the year’s final tournament would be like from listening to some of the older guys talk about it.

But without seeing it firsthand, the notions I held regarding Nationals were very similar to what I thought college would be like while I was still in high school.

People would preach to me about how awesome college was and I would hear dudes older than me reliving their favorite college stories like they were straight from a blockbuster comedy.

Needless to say, my emotions during the eight hour drive up to Grand Rapids were a mixture of nerves and giddy excitement. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve before he finds out Santa Claus isn’t real. (My parents dropped that bombshell on me last year, much to my dismay.) As I tried to fall asleep on the Styrofoam hotel mattress Friday night, I had a million unanswered questions running through my head.

How would my team fare? What would the captains’ meeting by like? Was GVSU still as dominate as when they whipped us 15-0 our first season? Did anyone actually listen to our podcast?

Walking into that gym the first day was like walking into Disney World for the first time. There was so much I wanted to do.

The setup was fantastic.

Using GVSU’s basketball court as the main stage for competition was ridiculously cool. I mean, how many teams can say they play every game on their basketball team’s court? I could feel the excitement humming through my guys like electricity. They all sensed it.

We’re finally here. After months of anticipation, we’re about to play in the most legitimate tournament we’ll probably ever play in.

Some quick stretching and reuniting with familiar faces helped me shake some of the nerves. It wasn’t like I was seriously worried about the teams we were going to play or how well we’d do. I was just incredibly excited to be at the national tournament and anxious to get started.

Before I knew it, we were being whisked away to the bowels of the Fieldhouse for my first ever captains’ meeting. When we all settled into the chairs lining that lecture hall, you would’ve been hard pressed to find a more dedicated group of guys on the planet at that moment. After some last-minute scrambling, we finally configured the schedules for the first day. My team would play Central Michigan, GVSU JV and Wisconsin-Platteville.

During that first game against CMU, I could’ve griped about how we were drained from the eight hour car ride or just had first half jitters. The simple fact was that we underestimated CMU. That’s one of the beauties of Nationals. It brings together teams that you haven’t played or never even seen play before.

Despite turning a 0-4 deficit into a heartbreaking 3-4 loss, our game against CMU did yield one of the weekend’s funniest moments. It came during the first point. I never even saw it, but apparently a rocket throw from CMU made a detour to crush my buddy Adam Martin in his face as he stood up from grabbing a ball. This was hilarious for several reasons. If you check the pictures from Nationals, you can see the elaborate face paint and hairdo that #99 trotted out for the first day. Knowing that we’d be seeing black face paint on some of the balls was an amusing reminder of how many times Martin stopped throws with his face.

But nothing could’ve topped Martin’s face when he approached me before the start of the second point. In fact, I’m laughing about the thought of it as I write this sentence. The sight of Martin with his eyes swollen shut and a mixture of sweat, tears and snot running down his face was absolutely priceless. Even more classic was him telling me, “I’m fine! I can still play.”

Also on my personal highlight reel was getting hit in not one, but BOTH, buttcheeks by some rocket throws during the GVSU JV game. Like Ron Burgundy said, “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.” Our team definitely had the best pre-point ritual when we imitated the Globo Gym Purple Cobras against DePaul.

I believe Jack Attack said he was “rolfcoptering” on the floor after that one. Finally, we perfected the game of “Gladiator” against SVSU. Watching our guys battle it out against the Cardinal juggernaut might’ve been my proudest moment of the weekend.

When it was all said and done, we didn’t finish as well as I’d hope. But here’s the way I look at it, thanks to an attitude rearrangement from DePaul’s guys: ten years from now, I won’t remember the record we finished with or the points we should’ve won.

I’ll remember all the awesome dudes we met and the feeling of being around so many people that love the great game of dodgeball. And how much my cheeks hurt after that GVSU game, of course.

AJP #05: Part 1

In this episode, Ben plays the harmonica like it’s nobody’s business. After that, him and Josh talk about BGSU’s tournament, WKU vs. Miami and Wreckeation Nation.

The episode finishes with an in-depth Nationals preview. Josh and Ben preview every team, pick their Final Four and predict the winner and score of the championship.

Play

WKU’s First Home Game

After nearly two years, gallons of gas, and plenty of last-second cancellations, the streak of 13 consecutive road games for the Western Dodgeball team will come to an end.

On Saturday, March 21 at 3 pm, fans at the Preston Center will be treated to the team’s first-ever home game.

And what a sweet relief it is.

As the captain and founder of the Western dodgeball team, it is with great excitement and joy that I look forward to a game without the worries of traveling.

The streak of road games has finally ended, and we now have a chance to start the proud tradition of defending home court and become a place where teams want to come play.

I always knew this day would come. But I never wanted to act prematurely.

During our first year, it was difficult to justify a home game when we didn’t have nearly enough guys to field a full team.

Road trips were preceded by dozens of phone calls as I tried to find people who were willing to play a game they’d never tried with guys they probably didn’t know.

It was a nightmare.

Then a new school year rolled around, and God decided to smile down on our pitiful little team.

I’d trimmed away some of the dead weight before the summer. Now, I was hoping our fall recruitment fair could bring the fresh faces our team needed to rebound after an 0-7 season.

It did. And then some. And then some more.

After a year of trials and tribulations, my team had finally come together just the way I had always hoped it would.

It was after we picked up some nice wins against in-state rivals UofL and UK that I knew the time was right for us to finally host our first game.

My good buddy Benjamin Sobczyk scanned the forums and found out that Miami University was looking to play some of the Kentucky teams this semester.

A couple phone calls later and it was official: on March 21, our team would make history.

The Facebook events we have put us at over 200 fans attending the game. I didn’t even know 200 people knew about the dodgeball team!

In order to make the game special, I’ve made arrangements for a cameraman and an announcer to be present at the game.

We’re even going to try a blackout among our fans!

Needless to say, my players are pumped at the opportunity to show their friends and family what college dodgeball is all about.

Come Saturday, we’ll have our chance to make history.

I never thought I’d see the day!

Battle of the Bluegrass: The Drive to Dodge

Thud!

Several heads ducked in unison as the projectile sailed over them.

Thud! Thud! Thud!

Three more rubber balls slammed against the back wall in rapid succession.

Those audience members with bad memories from middle school PE classes probably questioned the sanity of the 15 young men standing on the court at some point during the evening.

The white and red clad combatants had scrambled for loose balls, rocketed throws at their opponents and dropped to the floor when dodging was no longer an option.

Although the motivation to play a childrens’ game in college escaped some members of the crowd at Butler County High School, players on the Western dodgeball team never lacked inspiration for their annual game against UK..

It wasn’t the prospect of campus-wide renown or the allure of playing in games that would be featured on ESPN.

Each player that stood on the court that night to risk pain and humiliation did so because of a passion for the eloquence and simplicity of dodgeball.

Any doubts of such devotion were erased when Felix Perrone fell to the floor during the game’s first point clutching his left ankle.

Perrone hobbled off the court and slid down his sock to reveal a sprained ankle that had already swelled to the size of a golf ball.

But instead of heading for the locker room, he waited for his team to win the first game before dragging his swollen ankle onto the court for the second point.

“A bad ankle wouldn’t stop me from playing this game,” Perrone said.

Teammate Ben Sobczyk battled elbow soreness to be on the court during the rematch of Kentucky’s two prominent dodgeball programs.

“I just took it out on our opponent,” Sobczyk said.

Devotion wasn’t the only motivation other injured Western players had in their clash against the Wildcats.

The “Battle of the Bluegrass” was a fundraiser for BCHS’ after-prom program and an opportunity to share dodgeball with young students.

Daniel Williams called the game “the highlight of Western’s season.”

“It feels great to give back to the community,” Williams said.

As he stood among a gaggle of third graders prior to the match, Williams beamed as he watched the kids pelt their classmates with brightly colored foam balls.

“The look on their faces made it all worth it,” he said.

Too long of a season?

So there is surprisingly only a month left in the dodgeball season. But it leaves me wondering, is our season too long? It seems each your teams start playing games earlier and earlier in the year, and then this year SVSU played GVSU in early September. So essentially, our season has gone from the start of the fall semester to all but the final three weeks of the school year.

So, is it too much? For a team like SVSU it might be. We have had a game or a tournament almost every weekend. Which leaves for little else to do… Not that I am complaining. Though, I wonder what the schools that play fewer games like the Kentucky or Ohio schools think.

Perhaps if we shortened to a start date of early November, and still ending in April it would create more of a season feel as well, instead of a year round thing.

Perhaps having this long of a season isn’t a bad thing. You can get the most games in this way, you can get new members anytime, and build your arm strength to an ungodly level.

That’s really it… no pressing issues this time

How to get your club rolling

Just about everyone that plays in the NCDA wants to see more and more teams join. However, the last two seasons we seem to be at a stand still when it comes to new teams joining. We have gained a few, but have lost others. Here is my advice for those of you that are interested in creating a team at your school, or for those of you that want to give your existing club a shot in the arm.

Firstly, and what seems to be obvious but is not always done well is getting the word out about your club. While it’s impossible to get everyone to take note that you are creating dodgeball team, things as simple as a few flyers, an add in the school paper, and open pracite times are a great way to get the word out. Even try getting the word out to local papers. Some eat dodgeball stories right up, since it’s quite different than their normal coverage.

Secondly, try and find that core group of players that you think will be most dedicated and work your way from there. They don’t have to be the best players (though that always helps) but they should be able to create a solid foundation for your club, so that as it grows bigger and bigger you have the foundation ther to support it.

Thirdly, increase your membership anyway how. Invite everyone you know, and have everyone on your team invite everyone they know. Invite the people you see in the hallways or the guys that are playing pick up basketball before your gym time. They may have no dodgeball skill at all when they first start, but I have seen first hand some players that have developed into great players that were not good when they first picked up the game. And, chances are if they like it they are going to invite their friends, and maybe those friends are better athletes than they are.

Fourthly, have your club participate in school functions. If there is a food can drive, have your guys bring in as much food as they can. Not only does it look good in the eyes of the administration at your school, but if you win it creates more publicity for the team. When they have welcome week, club day, or whatever it’s called at your school make sure your club has a table at the event. In fact, maybe even sponsor a school event.

Lastly, run your club as professionally as possible. Have an up to date website, run your home games smoothly, have everyone wear team jerseys, and invite school officials to come watch, and invite athletes from other sports to watch. Make sure someone from your school paper is there to cover the event, and if they aren’t there, send them the results!

There are surely more things that you can do to increase your membership in your club. Every school is different, but these guidelines should hopefully help you out.

Mercy rule in dodgeball?

It’s been something that we’ve discussed as the years have gone on in our league, but I think it’s time we bring it back up; and that is having a mercy rule in our games. At one point I was against it… but now I think it’s time we adapt some form of mercy rule.

When the league first started out, all of the teams were pretty much in the same boat in that they had only been around four a couple of years. Even the teams that had their clubs established were still getting used to the thought of playing competitively. The only time games were really lopsided was when someone played Oakland. So a mercy rule would have rarely been used anyways.

Now, however I think that we are at a point that it should be implemented. There are teams that are taking part in their fifth season in our league while others are just hoping to survive through their first season. Other than at the Michigan Dodgeball Cup this past weekend, there have been more blowouts than close games.

Why do I think a mercy rule should take place? Take a look at Henry Ford’s game against Saginaw Valley last semester. The score was at least 14-0 (I think it was 16.) Did it effect HFCC to get beat that bad? I can’t say for sure that it did, but let’s look at a few things. Last semester their club was only a few weeks old and they were able to take 14 players and a coach to Saginaw to play us. Now, they have been canceling games and not able to go to a big tournament. Is it just coincidence that they can’t find players now?

Plus, it sets up the danger of teams trying to top one another to set a record. Now that teams know we beat a team 16-0, if someone is beating a team 11-0, they are going to keep playing full throttle until they get 17.

So, the solution? My idea would be that once a team gets up on another team by 10 or more points the score freezes. The game keeps going on, but when a team wins a point it is not added. It’s simple, and it doesn’t make a big deal out of the score like completely stopping a game would.

There may be other options out there… but this would be effective, and most importantly simple.