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All Grown Up, Dodgeball Hurtles Toward a Higher Popularity

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page B01

Dan Robinson didn't see it coming.

Thwang! The green rubber ball, bigger than a honeydew but not as heavy, flattened his right cheek. The other two dozen players on the Wheaton tennis court grimaced as he tried to walk off the pain.

"Did you see that?" laughed his girlfriend, Laura Kichak, as he rubbed the swollen skin. "That must have hurt."

Manilon Vady of Rockville, center foreground, watches a throw go by during a dodgeball game at Glenfield Park in Wheaton. More than 60 adults from the Washington area have signed up on the e-mail list that organizes the weekly match, and more are joining to play the increasingly popular sport. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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That is the stuff of middle-school nightmares, the sort of humiliation that a sixth-grader might revisit years later in a therapist's office. But Robinson, a 25-year-old Navy software engineer from Laurel, signed up to take the hit.

Dodgeball, a fixture of schoolyard culture before it fell out of favor with educators who worried about the risks of physical and emotional injury, has reincarnated itself as a fast-growing, adults-only game. Fueled by the box-office popularity of the current film "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" and the debut of "Extreme Dodgeball" on cable's Game Show Network, new leagues and more loosely organized groups are popping up across the country.

"Interest has just exploded," said Rusty Walker, 39, president of the International Dodge Ball Federation, which has organized players in seven countries, including the United States. Player interest has increased twelve-fold this year, he said, driven by buzz about the movie. The National Amateur Dodgeball Association – a rival league based in Schaumburg, Ill., made up mainly of midwestern teams – reports a more than fifty-fold increase in hits to its Web site.

Robinson is one of more than 20 who came out for the game last week in Wheaton at the Glenfield Park tennis courts – the traditional indoor gyms are difficult to secure. More than 60 adults from the Washington area have signed up on the e-mail list that organizes the weekly match – and more join each week.

But organized dodgeball has been late coming to the nation's capital. Interested players have been unable to find a league to join. Josh Rosenthal, a 27-year-old small-business owner from the District, hopes to change that.

Last Thursday, a dozen people who met through the Internet sat at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW to talk dodgeball. Their plan: to form a citywide league this fall. Meantime, would-be players travel to the game that Robinson has organized by e-mail for almost a year.

It begins with the pregame ritual that can be more bruising than a dodgeball to the face: choosing sides.

"Give me tank top," said Robinson, pointing to the undershirt-clad Rosenthal.

"I'll take Steve," said Alex Kritchfield, 28, a kung fu teacher from Silver Spring.

The selections continued until two remained. Megan Brady, 24, looked nervous. The teacher from Hyattsville seemed resigned to being the final choice.

But Robinson picked her. "Yay!" she exulted. "I'm not picked last!" She rushed over to her team.

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