Simple childhood game popular on campus

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Courtney Pischke

Very seldom does a sport come along that requires a ball and nothing else. For Nick O’Brien, the president and founder of the Dodging Illini, the enthusiasm and simplicity of playing dodge ball attracted him.

“It’s just as competitive as football or soccer,” O’Brien said, a senior in business. “Most people just think you throw a ball at people but it’s much more than that.”

Two and a half years ago, a group of first graders threw rubber balls at O’Brien while he sprinted around the park. A few months later, he decided to bring those rubber balls to college where he would start a dodge ball club with two of his good friends – one that has enticed over 200 members in the past year alone.

When he was camp counselor to a group of first through sixth graders in his hometown of Carol Stream, Ill., O’Brien realized that dodge ball was a game that anyone could enjoy without ever having played sports.

“I played dodge ball every day with the kids so when I came back to school that fall, I thought ‘Why not?'” O’Brien said.

In the beginning of his sophomore year at the University, O’Brien looked for support from his friend Eric Frame and Matt Nelson, who lived in the same residence hall as O’Brien.

With his friends’ help, O’Brien said that close to 800 potential members signed up on Quad Day, the club’s prime source of recruitment. Of those who signed up, about a fourth actually stayed in touch with the dodge ball club’s founding fathers. There are currently 240 members of the still-growing Dodging Illini.

“We didn’t have the financial resources last year,” said Frame, the treasurer of the club and senior in LAS. “We tried getting money from SORF but it didn’t work out – so we started to charge $50 per team, or $7 per individual player.”

With this money, O’Brien and executive cabinet members Frame and Nelson bought different colored balls to play with – red, white and blue – among other equipment like court space and team headbands.

“When we started playing we had all white [balls],” O’Brien said. “We just got three different colored balls so we wouldn’t get them mixed up on the courts.”

Split between three courts, the patriotic-colored dodge balls get playing time every Sunday night in Kenney Gymnasium, across from Grainger Library on Springfield Avenue. However, these are not your ordinary grade school playground balls. Imagine an opponent hurling an 8″ rubber-covered foam ball at your head, at speeds nearing 70 mph.

“We had a guy get a bloody nose last week,” O’Brien said. “It’s really intense on the courts.”

All nasal activity aside, the Dodging Illini encourages enthusiasm and intensity from its 32 teams. Nelson, senior in engineering and the club’s webmaster, is in charge of updating team standings, results and playing information on the club’s Web site. Also on the Web site are a list of the teams, pictures of the team members and recent announcements.

“We just got a couple invitations from Michigan State and Tulane to play in some tournaments,” O’Brien said.

He also said that Michigan State is trying to organize a dodge ball tournament in the Big Ten conference with other “dodge ball colleges” like Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Tulane asked us if we wanted to drive down to play in a Mardi Gras tournament next semester,” O’Brien said.

In addition to the colored beads and masks of Bourbon Street, the Dodging Illini will also play more locally this winter at the Schaumburg Park District on Jan. 8, where the National Amateur Dodge ball Association (NADA) is hosting the Winter Indoor Dodge ball National Championships.

Whether launching balls at each other or cheering from the sidelines, the Dodging Illini is always actively involved with the dodge ball society. Next weekend at Kenney Gym, the club is supplying the equipment for Green Street Records’ Dodge ball Tournament where proceeds will benefit the American Cancer Society.