Tasha Mabin was a freshman at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Each Wednesday at 7pm, the school hosted dodgeball at the gym. At the behest of her new friends, Mabin attended the heavily populated event.
“I showed up every single Wednesday for three and a half years,” Mabin says. “I never missed a Wednesday.”
Rob Immel was earning his education degree at the State University of New York College at Cortland. He utilized dodgeball as an example in a statistics class, then began taking over local tennis courts for games.
“I think that dodgeball found me,” Immel says.
AJ Fox played dodgeball growing up in St Louis and joined a local church league in high school. He was recruited by the National Dodgeball League and relocated to Las Vegas, where he played for more than a decade.
A friend encouraged Louis Velez to join the Sandlot Sports league in New York City in 2015.
“That’s when it all started, and I haven’t stopped,” Velez says.
Needless to say, the path into dodgeball is as varied as the people who play it. According to the World Dodgeball Association, which works with 62 national federations on six continents, there are more than 67.5 million dodgeball players worldwide. Mabin, Immel, Fox and Velez represent the United States at the national level. In August, they were in New York City for the 2018 Dodgeball World Cup at Madison Square Garden.
Immel, 36, is the captain of Team USA. A veteran from Saratoga, NY, Immel says he has seen the sport grow both domestically and internationally since he began playing. He says people used to have a memory about dodgeball from their elementary school days or typically refer to the popular comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), but now they’re actually trying the sport themselves.
“Nationally I’ve seen the most growth because it’s come from nothing,” he says. “When I wore a dodgeball shirt, people used to say, ‘There’s dodgeball; that exists?’ Now people see me and say, ‘Good luck in New York,’ or ‘How was Germany?’ They know it’s out there and now they’re coming out and trying the sport.”
According to US Dodgeball, the governing body of dodgeball in the United States, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 adults play organized dodgeball, with 3,000 to 5,000 participating regularly at a higher level. Team USA conducted five tryouts across the country in 2017 to field its three teams – men’s, women’s, mixed – at the 2018 Dodgeball World Cup.
Mabin, who resides in Maryland, plays in leagues in Washington DC. She says dodgeball is a great way to have fun, get some exercise and meet people, especially if you’re new to a city.
“If you’re competitive, athletic and want to do something social, dodgeball is a great sport to try out,” she says.
While dodgeball is creating a community bond on the local level, forming that same sense of camaraderie among players nationwide is a bit more difficult in the United States, simply because of geography. Team USA is comprised of players from all across the country, which makes it hard to get together for training sessions or practices. The first time the entire team met was during the Dodgeball World Cup in New York City.
To combat the distance, Team USA uses social media, YouTube and email to discuss strategy and game plan and, despite the separation, some members are still able to get together regionally for practice. For example, a group of players from the northeast met in upstate New York for a session, which included a scrimmage against Team Canada.
“You have an England team, a Wales team, a Scotland team, an Ireland team and a Northern Ireland team,” Fox says. “So there you have five teams all within a few hours’ travel from one another.”
That proximity helped lead England to 2018 Dodgeball World Cup titles in women’s and mixed, while Austria won the men’s title. The US men’s team finished sixth, the women in ninth, and the mixed squad in sixth.
Results aside, coming to the Big Apple and playing at one of the most iconic arenas in the world was a bucket-list moment for many of the players, particularly Fox, who was visiting New York City for the first time.
“It’s every athlete’s biggest dream to represent their nation in the largest competitive tournament they can in their respective sport,” he said. “I was honored to do that in 2016 on English soil, but playing this tournament here in the United States brings that to a completely other level. To wear the stars and stripes and represent the United States here on American soil is a dream come true.”