Hit or be hit. It’s the essence of dodgeball.

“The feeling after hitting somebody,” muses Peter Brown, a senior finance major, after his Delta Upsilon team beat the Sig Ep Slingers on a cold night in November, “that’s like, I’m better than you. Yeah!”

dodgeball free-for-all
It’s a free-for-all when the whistle blows in dodgeball. (Photo Shelly Hanks)

“Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation,” explains a narrator in the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Though millions of American school children would probably agree with that description, the popular film helped usher in a new wave of interest for the old schoolyard sport.

In 2005 there was enough interest at WSU that dodgeball became an intramural sport, says Skyler Archibald, a graduate assistant in competitive sports. “[The comedy film] definitely did have an effect, a strong effect, on making dodgeball more popular,” he says. With 42 teams on the fall roster, the sport still doesn’t approach the participation level of flag football, which fielded 150 teams this year. But “Dodgeball is a good second sport,” Archibald says. “It’s a little more low-key, a little less strenuous.”

But that’s all relative.

“Hands on the wall! Dodgeball!” calls the referee, and twelve players race to the center line to grab one of six red or yellow six-inch foam balls.

On this night in November, the cantaloupe-size spheres are flying fast and furious. The squeak of rubber soles on the hardwood floor keeps rhythm with the thwack of balls hitting the walls and the occupants of Smith 212.

Several seconds of frenzied activity are followed by more seconds of silence and dirty dog stares across the court as players regroup and gather up balls. The game is officially “self-officiated,” so players who get hit leave the court and head to “jail” with no stop in the action.

The history of dodgeball is fuzzy. According to the International Dodgeball Federation, it was “elevated” from a playground game to a sport in 1997 and it is now played around the world. Rules vary from place to place, but the essence is the same—hit or be hit, and the last team standing wins.

At WSU, teams play best-of-seven matches and each game lasts a maximum of ten minutes for a total playing time of 40 minutes. Then, if neither team has won, it goes to sudden-death overtime.

It is the second game of the WSU Intramural Dodgeball playoffs and the first game Delta Upsilon has fielded a complete team of six players. Still, their undefeated season has earned them a first-round bye in the men’s competitive bracket. “I’m hoping to come out of this with a championship,” says Brown.

Delta Upsilon fields a team in every intramural sport offered at WSU, Brown says, except for the co-ed division of WSU’s dodgeball league. “We found that it’s actually really hard to get girls.”

“Hit girls?”

No, get girls. Girls like playing co-ed softball, he says, but dodgeball, not so much.

Still, 16 of the teams entered in this year’s dodgeball league were co-ed.

If the guys go easy on girls in the co-ed division, Haley Tellesbo hasn’t noticed. “If you’re out there, you need to know that people are going to be playing hard,” says Tellesbo, a sophomore pre-nursing major on the Clown Punchers.

But Tellesbo, a three-sport high school athlete, is good at dodging. In the previous game she was one of two people standing for the sudden-death overtime, and she hit her mark to help win the game and advance in the playoffs.

But on this night, the Clown Punchers fall to the Hoarders after Hannah Coughlin sinks a basket from the far side of half court to spring four fellow Hoarders from jail in the fifth and deciding game of the match. Though not part of the movie version of dodgeball, the sink-a-basket-and-free-players-from-jail rule is common in leagues that play on basketball courts.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Coughlin, a former high school basketball player who scored a jailbreak in her previous game as well. “It’s really competitive, but it’s really easy. It’s something anyone can do.”

As Archibald says, dodgeball makes a good second sport. Virtually everyone on the court plays something else as well. An informal, entirely unscientific poll revealed that most dodgeball players were varsity athletes in high school. Some played football, some played soccer or ran track. And most, it seems, played baseball.

“We could have played small college ball,” says Derrick Hwang of The Redeem Team, which went on to win the 2010 league championship. “We’re all baseball players.”

Jeff Donovan, a senior mathematics major and manager of The Redeem Team, says the attributes of a good dodgeball player are “tenacity, being athletic, being able to throw.” A pitcher in high school, Donovan says he’s tired after a forty-minute game. You can throw a lot of balls in forty minutes, he says.

Which is what makes it fun.

“Being able to throw stuff at other people,” says freshman Jordon Beeman, a teammate on The Redeem Team. “It’s barbaric.”

On the web

WSU intramural dodgeball leagues