But despite the bean-or-be-beaned commandment of the dodgeball culture, all that seeking and destroying is done with a smile. (When they’re not gasping for breath, that is; the game is surprisingly tiring.) No one takes the game too seriously—what, the ninja costumes and goofy team names didn’t give that away?—but just in case, the league instituted rules designed to prevent over-aggressive play, and it recently switched from rubber balls to softer, foam-filled -Rhino Skin balls that Madden says literally and figuratively take the sting out of getting hit.
“Those who sign up are usually outgoing and sociable, and if they aren’t outgoing by nature, then silly, relaxed sports like dodgeball have a tendency to draw them out of their shell.”
Before wading into the fray, I asked one of my teammates, J. B. Wogan, for some advice on strategy. “The truth is, I think we forget all about strategy once the game begins,” he admitted. “There have been moments when we remember to coordinate our throws or pick targets, but usually it’s just chaos.” Chaos was a good word for it. I stepped into a match and instantly brought it to a sneaker-screeching halt by picking up a ball on the wrong side of the court, but after that one minor hiccup, I was dodging, ducking, dipping, and diving like a pro. A pro who never lasted beyond the first few minutes of a game, that is: I couldn’t keep track of where the balls were on the court and became an easy target—and got pelted more times than I could count—but thanks to my gracious hosts on the Axis of Awesome, I was at least able to have a blast being an easy target.
“It’s a great way to meet fun, interesting people in Seattle,” Rouse said after our games were over. “Those who sign up are usually outgoing and sociable, and if they aren’t outgoing by nature, then silly, relaxed sports like dodgeball have a tendency to draw them out of their shell. You end up interacting with friends and acquaintances in a goofy, sweaty environment where it’s hard to take yourself too seriously.
And though it was hard to take him seriously in his pink T-shirt, knee-high socks, and self-cut “jorts,” it was clear that Rouse was deadly serious when he said with a smile, “I plan to play dodgeball in Seattle for as long as I live here.”