Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dodgeball: Building Community through the Pain and Degradation of Others

Sometimes communities need to band together in order to fend off and/or thwart an external tormentor. The external force could be anything. It could be aliens, the UN Gang, zombies, rabid raccoons, Hummer owners, ninjas, pirates, or Republicans. Point is, how can we - as a community - receive the proper training to repel external threats. The answer, my friends, is dodgeball.

On Tuesday night, my good friend Krista invited her brother (Kurt) and I to play a little dodgeball at BCIT. Kurt couldn't make it because he is/was sick or dead, I can't remember which, but I was happy to go along. And - wow - was it ever worth it. I got to play on a team that had fun, gave me some exercise and taught me some key moves to repel invaders.

I've played dodgeball a few times before, but never on a court/surface so big. There was a no-man's land for crying out loud! It was totally possible for players to be trapped behind enemy lines, so to speak (again, I'll point out that playing dodgeball, like any team sport, simultaneously builds community and prepares us for fighting zombies).

To be honest, during the game my high school athlete persona kicked into action, and I concentrated hard on dodging, diving, dipping, ducking, catching, and hurling balls with great vigor and no remorse. Given the size of the court, we all ran a lot too. Needless to say, I was looking out for myself and my teammates, and not really taking it all in. But in between games or after I took a few balls to the face and got knocked out, well, I had a chance to stand back and take it all in.


Maybe it was because of the two teams playing, but there was little to no degradation, humiliation or pain to be seen. In fact, rarely have I ever seen such things on the dodgeball court. There was/is a lot of fun to be witnessed, though. For example, one of the players on the opposing team could not stop smiling for the entire game. Whether he got someone out, caught a ball, dodged a blow, or took one to the face, the kid just had this amazing, perfect grin spread across his face the whole time. It was contagious.

Speaking of the contagiousness of this particular game, just type "dodgeball" into Google and/or YouTube and see what comes up. This second-tier "sport" (let's face it, people) has inspired a whole weird and amazing online community, with a litany of creative and entertaining "how-to" videos as well as some particularly amusing examples of hits, misses and spectacular outfits.

In conclusion, there are two main findings on which to reflect.

First, holy crap did we ever have a fun time of it last night. Thinking about the young man on the other team who couldn't stop smiling if he tried is making me smile today. Dodgeball is ridiculous in every way (sorry to all the serious, balls-deep players out there). You can't help but have fun whilst playing. The game represented social, cultural and ability leveling at its very best. It was a beautiful, inclusive experience!

Second, I will simply say that if the Roman Empire had played a little more dodgeball and done a little less gladiatorial spectating, they wouldn't have crumbled so easily under the needling, constant attacks by the "barbarian" invaders from Downtown Germania and elsewhere. So, to you, the community, I challenge you to get involved, be active and start dodging everyday household items at your earliest convenience. Because, when the revolution/invasion* comes, it will be important to know how to get out of the way.

Good talk. I'll see you out there!


*I don't mean to scare you, but the Work Less Party is actually much, much, more active and organized than you might think. Ironically, they're working hard to change our collective lifestyle, and aren't against employing ninja zombie robots to get things started. I'm just giving you a friendly heads-up. Good luck!


godfrey said...

First things first:

Not that this is a contest, but hats off, John. This is in my view wins the BPE prize. (Best Post Ever) prize. The graphics, references to Germania (funnily enought we called dodgeball, German ball in Ottawa Elementary) and historical analysis on the demise of the Roman Empire would even make Gibbons chuckle and then go back to the drawing board. Heck, it might make the author of the definitive history of the Romans come back to life and take up dodge ball. I like how dodgeball brings out the best in everyone too - whether it draws on sheer athletic prowess, jolinss despite having horrendous hand eye coordination or all around good humour despite being smacked by well-hurled utility ball. It's an allegory for how, by drawing on the strengths of all to overcome the challenges hurled at us by life, better, stronger community emerges.

Michelle Burtnyk said...

I like how this article exemplifies a key tenet of a healthy, happy, productive community: simplicity.

When things get complicated, people get frustrated, apathetic, or confused. Many times, all three. I remember trying to drive downtown on a Friday (game-night) to meet a friend the other week. A mild-mannered person at heart, navigating the sea of people, buses, cars, drunkards, and bikes had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

So I commend your foray into simplicity, John. Cause sometimes all you need to build community is a ball, a can, a park bench or a walking trail.

Theodora Lamb said...

Ah, simplicity. To quote William of Ockham (or, at least paraphrase) the simple explanation (as opposed to the complicated one) is usually the right one.

Dodgeball builds community in simple steps, ipso facto . . . throw ball, catch ball, get hit, have fun.

Lets make T-shirts!