Last week, about 180 twenty and thirty-somethings met at Wings Stadium for one huge game of dodge ball. This is the second year for the Kalamazoo Sport & Social Club’s dodge ball league. Each league event lasts two hours. And with 10 teams playing at once, you’ll might get pelted on the sidelines.
Before and after the game, players meet for drinks and laughs at Continental Lanes across the street. Audra Snyder says this is the first time she’s played dodge ball since middle school.
“I thought it would be fun to have a little date night with my husband," she says. "We don’t get out very much and when we do we don’t have a whole lot to say to each other. So why not interact and, you know, smash some people with some soft little balls.”
Krishna Stephen is a graduate student at Western Michigan University and works at Forensic Fluids Laboratories in Kalamazoo. She says the club gives her a break from school and work and lets her meet new people. Stephen says the drink specials before and after the game are also a plus.
“It gets you loose before the game, you know," says Stephen. "Make sure you’re still coherent though, you have to have the right balance. Can’t drink too much.”
Quinn Kilgus is a research technician at MPI Research out of Mattawan. Kilgus says he plays other rec sports too, but sometimes they get too competitive.
“This is just relaxing, having fun, and not having to worry about winning, losing," he says. "It’s just meeting new people and enjoying it.”
Chris Wessely is the president of the Sport & Social Club in Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Grand Rapids. He says though the club is just for fun, it's in a player's nature to be competitive.
"What we tell them is that please put your socialness ahead of any of your blood-drawing traits,” says Wessely.
Wessely says the point of the club is to get young professionals to mingle. He says after college, it can be hard to find that sense of camaraderie.
“Now that they’re in their career and they’re like happily planted, they’re trying to figure out: How do I meet people? How do I get out there? Meet even more friends or that significant other, or how do I make more advances in business?" Wessely says. "And this is a great avenue to do it.”
Like sport and social clubs in Chicago and New York, the Kalamazoo branch is run by a for-profit company. Wessely says a lot of local businesses create teams to strengthen bonds between coworkers.
“The larger the company, they’ll find that these departments…they’ll have people on the teams that they don’t even know each other. Somebody’s from H.R. department, some people are from finance, some people are from on the floor, some people are engineers—and they get to know each other. And some people actually work in departments that work with each other, but they just never put a face with the e-mail. And now, they’re starting to make friends and they become like really close. So now when they see each other at the workplace passing in the hall or in that e-mail, it becomes even easier.”
Because the club is all about being social, Wessely says they shy away from traditional sports.
“We’re not doing basketball, we’re not lacrosse or soccer," he says. "We’re doing whiffle ball. We’re doing pickle ball, dodge ball, kickball—that kind of stuff.”
They even swapped out those hard rubber dodge balls you had in gym class for less painful foam. Rachel Morrissett says she had bad memories of dodge ball as a kid, but now she loves it.
“It’s really nice watching myself improve," she says. "You know, on the courts I’m getting better, I can actually get people out. And then afterwards when we meet up at the bar, I’m actually making new friends and branching out. So it’s not just athletically.”
The Kalamazoo Sport & Social Club hosts public dodge ball games on Tuesday nights at Wings Stadium. Registration for dodge ball is closed, but you can register for spring sports.