Joel Luciano is a former player for DePaul Dodgeball Society is currently finishing up his masters degree at DePaul University. Below he will describe how he got here and his experience in the league.
My first experience with dodgeball was in high school. I will never forget because my best friend got hit by two balls in the face at the same time, which at the moment was something we thought was funny. However, my first experience with dodgeball was during the first week of freshman year of college. It was during the Involvement Fair, which is an annual event hosted by DePaul where all the clubs within the university do a presentation stand. This was when I found the dodgeball stand and my journey of falling in love with the sport began. Dodgeball for me was more than an escape, it was a way to express myself both mentally and physically. Dodgeball was something that would bring me joy, relieve stress, calm anger, it would even quell my sorrows at times.
I left Puerto Rico to start my new journey in life. This was scary, at times it was even overwhelming looking at the differences between not only the city and the people but also the culture. To me dodgeball quickly became something that I found comfort, and eventually found a family in.
My first NCDA tournament was going to Akron, I don’t remember playing (although that might just be due to how DePaul plays dodgeball) but just the feeling of community and acceptance that I felt with my teammates is something I will never forget. From the time in the hotel to the 5-hour ride back home, I remember every feeling that day. I remember thinking that I had found my place. Going to this tournament is what made me want to strive to be better at dodgeball so that eventually I could give a home and community to people like me that were in need of one. Shortly after I began to look for more dodgeball experiences and families outside of the NCDA, eventually finding Elite, as well as other local leagues and tournaments around Chicago. This exposure helped me break out of my shell and helped me turn Chicago into a place that I can call home. I also made countless memories, many of which I will never forget from winning a 1v3 in Elite to goofing around on the court. These memories I’ve made along the way will be some that I will cherish for as long as I live.
I hope that we can guide others down a path that allows them to fall in love with dodgeball so that they too can create these types of memories. This was a huge reason as to why I became Captain and President of the DePaul Dodgeball Society, so that I could build a community and a family centered around dodgeball. I think inclusivity, and diversity are very important things, especially in predominantly white institutions like DePaul. I would say that the NCDA does have a lack of representation, especially in the Latinx community. When I first joined DePaul, I was one of only 2 Hispanic kids. Although that grew significantly when I became president, the lack of representation within the NCDA seemed to remain the same.
I couldn’t even begin to explain why dodgeball suffers from lack of diversity because that would be an essay in and of itself, but I can say (at least in my experience) that many people of color feel out of place. It feels like, at least in my case, that white individuals take up much of the space both on and off the court. They do not provide an opportunity to people of color to flourish, and/or to feel welcomed and not out of place. I can’t say with certainty that diversity has grown within the league throughout the years, but I can say that within the DePaul Dodgeball Society it surely has. However, there is always room for improvement and for growth, especially when talking about inclusivity and diversity.
If I had to give advice to any fellow minority players starting out, I would say “just be you”. Own who you are, and let the court be a platform for you to let who you want to be grow and flourish into something beautiful. I would also say “don’t be afraid”, especially for people of color it is scary to do new things, especially when you feel like you are not welcomed, and or wanted within a given space. However, you can be the ripple that causes a massive wave of change, because sometimes it only takes 1 to open the path for many. I have unfortunately graduated from DePaul and will no longer be participating in the NCDA, but I plan on being a role model within the dodgeball communities I am already a part of, and hopefully when (and if) COVID ends, play some dodgeball!