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If you remember anything about growing up on America's playgrounds -- and even a lifetime of therapy can't repress all of those golden years -- you remember the searing shock of a large, red ball striking you in the face. Let the memories flood back: You crumble to the blacktop, your nose numb, your throat choked with dust and shame, astonished that the big dumb kid would aim at you, the scrawniest fifth-grader. So you pick yourself up, hurry to a safe place on the perimeter, scoop up a bouncing ball, fix an executioner's stare on the few remaining dodgers, and overcome your humiliation the only way you know how: by flat-out nailing that skinny shrimp who thought he could hide behind the fat kid.
Well, happy times are here again.
Don't call it an underground scene just yet, but San Francisco has two -- count 'em, two -- dodgeball leagues re-enacting your worst childhood memories on a regular basis. The aptly named San Francisco Bombardment Society gathers at 1 p.m. on Sundays in Golden Gate Park's Bunny Meadow, behind the Conservatory of Flowers. Its founder, 24-year-old Sean Speer, started the group about a month and a half ago -- mainly because he thought "San Francisco Bombardment Society" T-shirts would make him the envy of his peers. The shirts haven't materialized yet, but he says the league has attracted a fair number of folks who share his passion for the, er, sport.
"It seems like everyone I talk to says, 'Oh my God, you play dodgeball? I haven't played that in years,'" Speer says. "Originally, it was just about the T-shirts, kind of a whimsical thing, but I have a ton of fun out there. You know, most sports are so institutionalized, there's a lot of attitude and one-upmanship. But this is dodgeball -- we don't give a shit."
Actually, dodgeball has been institutionalized in other cities to a surprising, even alarming, degree. Chicago, for instance, plays host to both the World Dodgeball Association and the National Amateur Dodgeball Association, which attract hundreds to their tournaments. There are as many dodgeball rules and variations on rules as there are playgrounds across the country, but the San Francisco leagues keep it simple: Two teams, whose members are divided between those inside the dodge zone and those on its perimeter, try to eliminate opposing players by either pegging them or catching their thrown balls. The winning team is the one with the last man dodging.
Although the game is traditionally staged on a basketball court, the Bombardment Society, an admittedly laid-back group of enthusiasts, stages its battles on the lush grass of Golden Gate Park.
Such a forgiving playing surface simply won't do for Lloyd Rivera, a 25-year-old San Francisco resident who has formed his own league called the S.F. Blood Warriors (who, he's quick to note, have not actually spilled any blood yet). The league meets every other Sunday at 1 p.m. on a blacktop at Presidio Middle School, at 29th Avenue and Geary Boulevard; the next game is scheduled for Sept. 1.
"We play in this sunken blacktop area," Rivera says. "So it's kinda like Rollerball, except no wheels and no neoprene/latex jumpsuits."
Rivera says he formed the league because he was tired of so many basketball games degenerating into dodgeball matches. And he thinks it's a shame the sport doesn't occupy a more prominent place in the adult world.
"You're not supposed to hit people in the face or slam into each other at work -- that's looked down upon now," Rivera laments. "Well, this is a nice way of pegging people in the face and getting away with it."
Before the Blood Warriors' first outing a few weeks ago, it had been years since Rivera played a real game of dodgeball. He was astonished to see people stretching before the match, but the next day he understood why: All the body blows, direct hits, and frantic leaping made it difficult to get out of his chair. And Rivera, a self-described "scrawny Filipino," believes an essential part of dodgeball is dressing the part, so he wore a red shirt with broad stripes across it, too-short jeans, and nerdy sneakers.
"Certain things never change," he says. "Some people look like they're going to get hit, so you go after those people. You rely on a survival instinct, and it was ingrained in us on America's schoolyards."
The leagues are open to anyone who wants to watch or play. Eventually, Rivera hopes, the two dodgeball groups will square off against each other.
"Our ultimate goal is to beat the Bombardment Society," he says. "Maybe we can make a cheesy '80s rivalry out of this."
Tough economic times call for tough measures. Though we've never considered ourselves a salesman, we do have the financial burdens of Enron (our utility bill) and WorldCom (our phone bill) on our shoulders. So when the opportunity arose to participate in the world's newest profession, selling the world's smallest kite, we took it.
Our kite dealer, who will go nameless, had a "great opportunity" for us. "You can make literally hundreds of dollars in one day, man, and it's, like, completely legal," he said.