Photos by Josh Holmberg
LIFE IMITATES ART
Intentional or not, the Ben Stiller comedy sparked a surge in adult dodgeball participation nationwide, including the Twin Cities.
In Minneapolis, the Dodge-It Center continues to hum under owner/marketing whiz Ed Prentiss, who says about 500 players will be involved in amateur leagues there this winter.
"It's a blast," Prentiss said, "It's a unique sport because you're always on." As in, there's no time to rest. Be alert, or you'll be knocked silly by one of those red playground balls, and out of the action. Prentiss, who offers leagues to the masses, also wants to take a cue from the movie and start up his own professional dodgeball
While the film was a goof on the game, Prentiss, 39, is serious about his venture. Right now, his timetable is for pro tryouts to begin in February or March, with the league (National Dodgeball League) to start play in April. Four franchises are in the mix for the first seasonwith marketing, broadcasting contracts and everything else under construction.
"I get e-mails from all over the country," he said of potential players, with a lot of interest from those with college football and baseball backgrounds. "The people that play are serious about it," explains Prentiss.
ONLY GAME IN TOWN?
Serious about dodgeball? Well, we do have the WNBA, after all. Not to mention the Arena Football League. Plus it's one of those niche sports, unlike lacrosse, that we can actually understand. And unlike hockey, there's no second mortgage involved. "It's not like you gotta buy a billion dollars worth of equipment," Prentiss added.
Joining a league costs $300 per team at Dodge-It, which Prentiss hopes to branch out to other cities soon. While Prentiss' place is the only spot in town that concentrates only on dodgeball, there are other leagues in the metro.
Soccer Blast, a sports facility in Burnsville, also offers dodgeball at the same rate. League Coordinator Matt Tanhaken says a 12-team league (120 players) will play there this fall and winter. "People are really liking it," he said of the playground game. "Maybe adults want to relive their glory days."
Oh yeah, there are also dodgeball pickup games. This past summer, a 30-something crowd of professionals would meet Monday and Thursday nights near the Kenwood Park tennis courts.
John Barton, 36, was part of that action. "There's nothing like whipping a ball at your friend," he said. "It kind of brings you back."
In Barton's case, back to the second grade, when he described himself as an "average" player. These days, he says it's great exercise, and simply a nice diversion. "It's one of those things that wives don't understand," he muses. "So it's all the more appealing." Spoken like a married man.
But don't think for a minute dodgeball is just a men's club. Co-ed leagues are quite common, with Prentiss promising a women's-only league soon. In fact, he says a priceless sight is watching the face of a strutting male player who suddenly realizes that a ball zooming toward him has been chucked by an former fast-pitch softball star.
"They can light it up," Prentiss beams.
ONE TOSS AT A TIME
As for Prentiss' dream, he says he'd love to see a sold-out Xcel Energy Center, with 19,000 rabid, T-shirt-buying fans cheering on the Minnesota Blur in the NDL title match against the New York Empire. Maybe in a few years, Ed.
For now, it's one toss at a time, as he grinds out putting together the league. Can he make it? Why not? Surely the craze will spike higher than ever when "Dodgeball II" is released.
"All we have to do is make it until the sequel," he joked.
Talk about your true underdog stories.
Doug Frattallone can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org