On Thursday evenings in the spring, summer and fall, more than 200 men and women on 13 teams—mostly singles in their 20s and 30s—gather at Liberty Park and Bennion Elementary School to play co-ed games of kickball complete with uniforms, refs and team names such as “Little Lebowski Urban Achievers,” “Crazy Pitches” and “Multiple Scorgasms,” before heading off to The Woodshed, the division’s “official” bar.
And yes, they play the kickball you’re thinking of, the same game you last played in fourth grade where somebody rolls you a big red rubber ball, you kick it and then run the bases under pretty much the same rules as baseball. The big difference between fourth grade and now is what happens after the game, which includes what beverages you can obtain and the increased knowledge about the opposite sex you’ve gained (or maybe not) in the 20 years since you last played.
WAKA, the national organization the Utah league plays under, claims nearly 50,000 players in divisions in 27 states. WAKA, which bills kickball as a “co-ed social sport” with a playing pool made up of 50 percent of each gender, sends out press releases touting all of the married couples produced by kickball (the Salt Lake City league recently produced its first engagement) and emphasizes that one of the ingredients for the sport’s growth is “a whole lotta beer.” Every division is required to have an official bar, and part of every player’s registration fee goes toward paying for beer at the end-of-season blowout party.
A significant number of players in the Utah Capital Division are transplants whose work or education brought them to Zion. For them, kickball provides the answer to the eternal question: “How do you meet people in Salt Lake City if you don’t go to LDS Sacrament Meeting?”
“This is sort of the transplant, non-LDS magnet,” jokes Hanna Huegel, the league’s social chair. She moved from New York City to Salt Lake City where, “I didn’t know a single person”; now, “all of my friends are from kickball or one degree removed from kickball.” She notes that the Salt Lake City league “has a different dynamic” in that relationships developed through kickball tend to extend to other areas, and there are more friendships between teams.
WAKA began in 1998 in Washington, D.C., and gradually found its way to Utah in the fall of 2006, when a former D.C. player moved to Salt Lake City, put up flyers and a posting on Craig’s List and had enough people respond to form five teams of 15-22 players. That group included those who’d already been gathering as friends for several years to play “pick-up” kickball games. In less than two years, the league has expanded to 13 teams, and there is talk of forming a second league in Sandy in the near future. Players can sign up as individuals or in small groups to be assigned to teams.
Just like recess back in the day, kickball games begin with a rock-paper-scissors throw to determine home team. Each team has 11 players in the field, and at least four of those have to be of one gender or the other. While there is definitely a power component to the game that favors those with a Y chromosome, Heugel says, “a lot of times it’s easier to bunt and keep the ball low to the ground. The size of the ball, bunts and speed even things up pretty quickly.
“It’s one of those sports where guys aren’t necessarily better than girls.”
Clarence “The Head Ref” Willardson says telling your co-workers you play kickball can often draw snickers, “but once they come out here and see it, they ask, ‘How can I join?’” Brosius reports that every season, the league picks up new recruits from people who just happen to walk by and see the games in progress.
“You don’t have to be all that athletic to play it,” Willardson says. “A lot of people come for the friendships. There are some guys who are all about the game, but there are some teams that can’t wait for the game to get over so they can get over to the bar and grab a beer.”
Although the league has a traveling trophy—sort of like a mini-Stanley Cup—things rarely get too competitive because, as Huegel puts it, “Nobody played in college. Nobody had a kickball scholarship.” And at the other end of the spectrum, “There are no kickball power-parents.”
Whoever ends up being better, Brosius says the end result is always the same: “We compete against each other for five innings, but then everyone goes and sloshes beer mugs together.”
WAKA Utah Capital Division Kickball.com