Ball of Shame

The violence, humiliation, exclusion, degradation, and sheer joy of dodgeball in the park

"You're out!" shouts Speer to the thrower.

While there are countless variations of dodgeball, the SFBS concentrates on three basic games: Prison Rules, in which a circle of throwers surrounds a group of dodgers; Fortress or Four Square, in which every person hit joins the team that hit him; and Trench Ball or Roman, the most common game, in which the court has two sides and two back lines. In all, a caught ball eliminates the thrower; and one ball may be used as a deflection of another ball, as might the skull, since a hit on the head is considered a miss except in the case of a dive. According to the International Dodge Ball Federationrule book, the head-to-ball immunity does not apply if a player is diving to catch an opponent's ball.

"You've got to love a game that considers head shots fair play but still uses 'bouncies,' 'dropsies,' and 'returnies' as official jargon," observes 34-year-old Justin Drenttel, who has stopped by the field to find out when the next game will be held.

We watch as Paul Madrinandoes the splits in midair and catches a ball, only to be hit by another as he lands. A short time later, Kevin Lewis catches a ball in one hand while wielding another ball in the other hand, eliciting the nickname "Spartacus" from a fellow teammate. In one round, Madrinan finds himself the last man standing in a court before he is bombarded with three balls in rapid order. Early on, Shashi Kara, aka Sixo, is hit in the head, and, as his sunglasses go flying into the warm yellow afternoon, I notice Andrew Flurry's face, which shows a mixture of horror and surreptitious delight at having beaned someone. Players are swapped, laughter shared. The games come fast and furious between beer breaks, too fast for anyone to really care about skill levels. Feats of physical prowess and ineptitude blend in the summer sun. Laughter and alcohol run together, as do the rules.

"None of my cheers will work for this game," pouts Wesley Kingsbury, a one-time cheerleader who looks more comfortable these days behind a cigarette than a pom-pom. Her prayers are answered with the arrival of Roky Roulette, who decides to strip off another article of clothing every time he finishes playing a game.

Whether in spite of childhood trauma, which included being strung up by his underpants to the cold-water faucet of a shower when he was 9, or because of it, Roulette is a dodgeball star, successfully catching and evading balls while holding his blond wig in place.

Wearing nothing but tennis shoes and a pink G-string studded with rhinestones.

"R-O-K-Y!" shouts Kingsbury while Roulette's wife, Margot Montmartre, and daughter, Liberty, also cheer from the sidelines.

Roulette's opponents express a suitable amount of dodgeball-fueled fury, pummeling him with balls, but there are no injuries, even of feelings, and by the end of the day, the SFBS cheerleading squad has gained a member, and so has the team.

"Man, that was fun!" says Flurry with an unfamiliar glint in his eye.

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