Dodgeball a weekly diversion for participants in Dodging Illini

Beck Diefenbach, Illustration

By Jim Vorel

A whistle sounds. A bevy of students scurry forward like squirrels on the Quad after a cache of nuts, instead scooping bright orange balls up from the middle line of the gymnasium and hustle back to their starting points.

A quick appraisal of their foes and these gymnasium gladiators let their puffy projectiles fly.

It is a quick game, leaving one side decimated before they have any real chance to retaliate.

The thud of ball against flesh falls silent.

This is dodgeball.

“I love dodgeball,” said Mike Kevorkian, a dodgeball enthusiast and sophomore in Engineering. “It’s a great workout and a nostalgic game that’s making a big comeback all around the country.”

Kevorkian is a player in the Dodging Illini and president of the Dodgeball Society, two Registered Student Organizations. Both groups play weekly at Kenney Gym, 1402 W. Springfield Ave.

The Dodging Illini, founded in 2002 and under the watchful eye of president Zach Thullen, senior in LAS, is focused on preset teams of six players who meet weekly on Sunday nights from 7 to 9 p.m.

“It costs $14 an hour to rent the Kenney Gyms, so each Dodging Illini team splits a $50 contribution for the season to rent the gym out,” Kevorkian said. “Dodgeball Society, on the other hand, is more for informal pick-up dodgeball games.”

“Anybody who wants to play can come and play with random pickup teams for a dollar each day they come,” Kevorkian said.

It shows just how popular dodgeball has become, that there is more than one club to practice the sport.

And not all of the teams are exclusively made of male players.

There are several female players, and more are always welcome, Kevorkian said.

Perhaps no team better embodies the energetic spirit of the game better than the Dodging Illini’s “Super Best Friends.” This team of six is formed around a core of five consistent players, with the sixth position occupied by rotating guest players.

It is a tight-knit group of friends who have known each other for some time. Steven Napoli and Patrick Swanson, members of the “Super Best Friends,” are even roommates.

“The fact that we’re all friends who have known each other for some time allows us to be more in-sync when it’s game time,” said Swanson, junior in LAS. “Eventually we’ll be unstoppable.”

This familiarity has inspired a rather complicated and entertaining sequence of pre-game rituals and preparation techniques, approximately a half-hour before the game.

Rock star energy drinks are consumed. The obligatory heart-pounding playlist of intense rock music is turned on. This includes classics like Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take it” and Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize.” This is always anchored by a playing of Europe’s grandiose “The Final Countdown,” which is often played multiple times.

Napoli and Swanson sing along with these songs at loud enough volumes to be heard from the other side of the dorm.

Their air-guitar solos are in constant danger of spilling out into the hallway and contaminating the entire building in an explosion of upbeat dodgeball preparedness.

“We’re gonna win today,” said Napoli, sophomore in LAS, on Sunday, shortly after “The Final Countdown” played for the first time. “There’s no doubt in my mind. We are going to win. These drinks will give us the energy we need to overcome our many dodgeball enemies, and make us into superstars.”

“We are superstars,” Swanson agreed. “Our recent record may not reflect it, but I feel entirely confident that we are going to win…”

Even after seeing the “Super Best Friends” in action, it is easy to think dodgeball is a deceptively simple game.

It is perfectly possible to look on without realizing how tiring throwing the balls can be and how hard it is to throw the balls hard with any accuracy.

The teams playing on Sunday night were all of very impressive skill, making it hard to pick a clear winner. But the “Super Happy Best Friends” triumphed in their final game.

“We showed who we are out there today,” Napoli said. “This league lets us have a lot of fun in competition. We can be dodgeball superstars.”

“Just as the Bears proved themselves, so did we,” Swanson said. “We’ll be back every Sunday night for more dodgeball – we haven’t missed a week yet.”