WASHINGTON – What started as five guys trying to organize a game of kickball ballooned into a phenomenon in the greater Washington area,with interest bouncing across the country.
David Lowry and four others were chatting about kickball,the game common on elementary and middle school playgrounds. They started to organize a game that day,and before the day ended the group of five had planted seeds for the World Adult Kickball Association.
“In an hour it had turned into this,” Lowry said.
WAKA’s three Washington divisions drew 400 participants last year and organizers said they hope for about 1,000 this year,Lowry said. About 500 to 800 more people participated nationwide last year.
“We can take as many people as want to play,” he said.
WAKA interest groups are kicking around the idea of leagues in San Francisco,Los Angeles,Denver,Detroit and Chicago.
“People just keep hearing about it and wanting to play,” said Beth Van Emburgh,vice president of the founding Capital division. “It’s amazing to see how it’s grown in four years.”
The draw to the game reaches beyond booting a red ball – the ball must be red,according to the rules. The absurdity of the game and its reference to childhood draw people to the game,Van Emburgh said.
“Taking it back to the fifth grade,” a mantra of some members,reminds players of the absurdity,Van Emburgh said.
“It’s a simpler time,” she said. “There aren’t the same pressures.”
Some people were surprised at first by the league.
“A lot of people look at you funny when you tell them you play kickball,” she said. “When I heard about it,I said,’You’ve got to be kidding me.'”
But no one was kidding.
So many discontent former softball players moved from the District’s ultra-competitive leagues to WAKA,Van Emburgh said.
“Kickball is not meant to be that competitive,” she said. “A lot of the teams tease each other on the field,but those people hang out after the game together and have a good time.”
WAKA’s scope is broader than the playground game
“We have a lot of social events beyond kickball,” Lowry said. “We were looking for a less intense,more social organization.”
As a result,all participants must be over 21 years old,and most participants are 25-35,Lowry said. The older age helps preserve the atmosphere. The oldest participant is about 55.
“By and large,it’s white collar workers,” Lowry said.
There is a wide variety of players on the roster,ranging from young workers at associations,and Capitol Hill staff to construction workers,Van Emburgh said.
The league also takes excursions to happy hours and hockey games. They also host a Kick Ball event,a formal event each year.
Though the members’ birth certificates may indicate they are older,participants sometimes forget their age.
“There are occasional spats here and there,” Lowry said. “Usually anything you would expect on a baseball or softball field.”
But players rarely throw punches,he said.
“We have referees who keep everyone in line,” Lowry said.
The group plays Wednesday and Thursday nights near the base of the Washington Monument and at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston,Va. The regular season includes nine games and tournament play.
Registration in the District opens March 15 and closes April 15. Fees are $36 per person.