By Emily Montgomery
It’s 11 p.m., on a Thursday at the cage. Most of campus is doing homework, watching TV, or getting ready for bed.
Not Gabe Powell. He just got hit with a dodgeball.
“I feel like I got stabbed in the arm with an elbow,” he said smiling as he walked off the court.
The audience on the slanted picnic table laughed as he corrected himself. “I mean, in the elbow with a knife.”
Powell, a freshman, is one of many UMW students and alumni who meet after dark once or twice a week in the basketball court between Marshall and Jefferson to play dodgeball. Like many students, he stumbled upon a late night game and has been playing since. Because they are not advertised, most players find out about games by accident, like Powell, or through word of mouth.
As far as any of the players can remember, this has been going on for a decade.
The night starts around 10 p.m., usually with someone going over the rules. Players count off and split into two teams on each side of the court.
According to one of the regulars, Zeke Kassock, who graduated from UMW in 2009, “the perfect number of players at one time is about 10 or 12 on each side.”
After a countdown, everyone sprints for the balls in the middle of the court and starts throwing them at players on the opposite side. If someone gets hit, they are out for the game, unless they catch the ball, in which case the person who threw it is out.
During the heat of the game, players are always moving across the court to get a good angle, forward to get as close to the other players as possible, and toward the back to have more time to protect all of the while jumping out of the way of oncoming balls.
“A slow night ends around 11 or 11:30 p.m.,” said Kassock.
A good night sometimes continues past 2 a.m. with a group trip to Waffle House.
For UMW dodgeball, the alums play the important role of guarding traditions and setting the tone of the game.
“If we had a leader or captain, it would be Dave,” said senior Stephen Schroeder.
Dave Dalton graduated from UMW with a degree in Philosophy in 2006 but is back now pursuing a degree in Economics.
He commentates every game with a cigarette in hand.
“If they get me to drop it in any shape or form while on the court, I’ll quit cold turkey,” Dalton said.
He loves the game because “[It’s] something athletic that doesn’t take a lot of athletic ability.”
Dalton, who played with some of the founding members of dodgeball at UMW his first year, remembers the initial mottos: “Fun, Friendship, Sportsmanship,” “Sportsmanship, no head shots” and “The sport for kids who can’t play sports.”
That sentiment has been passed down since the spring of 2000, when Dalton believes the games at UMW started, to current players and is what most draws students to the game.
“It’s a place to get away from the pressures of school and be with friends,” said senior Max Sandsky. He said that one of the things that first drew him to the game though, was the “superhuman abilities of the players,” describing people jumping onto the side of the cage or doing splits jumps to dodge balls.
Dodgeball was also a great way to make male friends at a predominantly female school, according to Laura Guthrie, who graduated from UMW in 2009. “I met the boy I’ve dated for three years and my roommate here,” she said.
She also said that being one of the few girls who play has benefits.
“They don’t try to kill me though, like they do with everyone else,” she added.
According to a USA Today article, the popularity of dodgeball is increasing nationwide because it’s “easier, cheaper and more social” than other traditional athletic pastimes.
Many students, however, still do not know that the dodgeball community on campus exists. Sophomore Ryan Vaughn said he’s never heard of the dodgeball games.
Vaughn has been a student at UMW for over a year.
Despite the laid-back nature, the dodgeball games can sometimes get very intense.
Dalton said during the winter they played in the snow and ice, and even remembers playing during Hurricane Isabel until having to evacuate.
Kassock broke two of his ribs once trying to extend for a ball and then falling. He still played a couple more games before calling it a night.
According to Dalton, one part of the dodgeball tradition at UMW is playing a memorial game at the end of each year in honor of Alex Naden, one of the founding members of dodgeball here, who died in a car accident his senior year after falling asleep at the wheel.
On the bench in front of Ball Circle dedicated to him, he is quoted saying “I learned that life is about many things, but mostly it is about the people we live it with.”
Dalton said one of the most important things about dodgeball is “most of the regulars are decent people who are concerned with having fun rather than being exceedingly athletic.”