- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

With the Washington Monument looming in the background, Scott Tillett lines up behind home plate, steadies himself for the pitcher’s delivery and then slams his foot into a large red ball, which flies into right field and drives home a run.

Mr. Tillett makes it to second base and beams, despite the fact that his team is still down 15-1.

Mr. Tillett is captain of the Red Rovers, one of 16 teams in the D.C. Capital Division of the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA). And on this pleasant Thursday evening in early May — one of the few playable dates in a cold, soggy spring season that has seen too many games rained out — he is among nearly 40 players battling for victory.

The two teams razz and tease each other and cheer their own players in a lively set-to. It’s a typical kickball game that for many of the players brings back childhood memories.

But here, on the grounds of the Washington Monument, adults are at play. More than 2,000 men and women, most in their 20s and 30s but some in their 40s and 50s, play on WAKA teams amidst Washington’s corridors of power and national monuments.

Six WAKA divisions, comprising 87 teams, play ball at the Washington Monument. Another four play throughout the District, in Adams Morgan and the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Still another 2,000 adults play in five other divisions in the suburbs — one 12-team division in Rockville and four divisions (of 53 teams) in Northern Virginia.

“You can go anywhere and play softball and soccer, but playing kickball is unique,” says John Powers, a 34-year-old Arlington resident who designs software. “This just seemed like a nice little way to keep the Peter Pan complex going.”

Kickball is played much like softball or baseball, with some exceptions. WAKA allows 11 players on the field and there must be a minimum of four men and four women or the game is forfeited. WAKA games go five innings and usually last 45 minutes. Unlike softball, players can be hit with the ball for an out as well as thrown out at a base. In WAKA, however, head shots are prohibited. In kickball, the distance between bases is usually much shorter than softball as well — sometimes as little as 20 feet of distance separate them.

Mr. Powers says that while WAKA is a sports league, it is really more of a social league that plays a sport. “The people you meet playing kickball have a sense of humor to them that doesn’t exist in a lot of the other organizations I’ve been a part of,” Mr. Powers says.

Mr. Tillett describes WAKA’s coed kickball league as 25 percent kickball and 75 percent social activity. The Arlington resident took up adult kickball because he was looking for a sport easier to play than soccer or softball.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Mr. Tillett, a 32-year-old writer for a non-profit organization. “It’s a good opportunity to get involved in social activities like scavenger hunts or making friends at the sponsor bars afterward. And it’s a very inclusive sport.”

Indicative of the playfulness are the fanciful team names, which can range from Finnegan’s Wake to Vandalay Industries (a play on a running gag from TV’s “Seinfeld”) to Liberace’s Hot Tub Party.

Players try to be creative with amusing names to call their teams, says Jennifer Bitticks, a 27-year-old Rosslyn publications manager who plays for the Capital Division’s Gang Green team. Its players tossed around a number of names before deciding on Gang Green. Naturally, they play wearing light green T-shirts.

“It kind of rang and had a necrophiliac edge,” Ms. Bitticks says, laughing. “There are a lot of double or quadruple entendres. We’re green, we’re new, we feel the infection. It’s just kind of silly stuff we come up with.”

• • •

David Lowry, WAKA’s president and one of four founders, says that 52 percent of the kickballers in the Washington area last year were women.

Amanda Shaver, a 24-year-old guidance counselor at Groveton Elementary School in Fairfax and a doctoral student in psychology at Argosy University in Arlington, has been playing for the Capital Division’s Team Lush for two years. She became involved in kickball because it provided relief from the competitiveness of the three soccer teams she plays on. She also likes the social element of WAKA.

“You definitely meet lots of different people because it’s not as competitive as soccer so you’re actually becoming friends with people on the other teams, which is not normal in other sports,” Miss Shaver, a Ballston resident, says.

On the kickball field, however, competition can sometimes be stiff. “People are there to play and there to win,” says Ms. Bitticks of Gang Green, who recalls that her team’s recent game against Super Friends was intense.

“Some teams are more competitive than others,” she says. “My team tries to keep a good balance between playing the sport and being social. We’re just out there to have a good time, whether that means having a good time at the bar [afterward] or having a good time playing the game.”

Jacob Mellin, whose Pain Train team plays in the Virginia Dominion Division in Reston and is 0-4, says his teammates would like to win a game but are not concerned that they haven’t, yet.

“It’s all in good fun,” Mr. Mellin says. “We play and it’s about winning but afterward we always have a good turnout at Carpool, our sponsor bar. And everyone is always in good spirits.”

In early May, Mr. Tillett’s Red Rovers struggled against the No Whammies, a team that takes its kickball seriously and which won the D.C. Capital Division championship last year. In fact, earlier in this spirited game, the No Whammies’ Justin Herger booted a towering homer deep into left field, into the cherry trees beyond the outfielders, and knocked in three runs, making it 15-zip.

That’s when a female member of the Red Rovers hoisted the team’s large banner, a red skull and crossbones on a white background, and dashed around the bases, waving the pennant from its 4-foot staff in hopes of boosting the morale of her team.

It didn’t help much, but the flag-waving cheered everyone on the field. The game ended after a 45-minute, five-inning contest, with the No Whammies winning 17-1.

“I think No Whammies took it out of our hide,” Mr. Tillett says. “It was somewhat discouraging. But then we went to the sponsor bar and everybody was friends again.

“It’s just kickball,” Mr. Tillett adds. “So our team doesn’t take it too seriously because we knew we were going to have fun later on.”

• • •

Indeed, “It’s just kickball” is a mantra throughout the WAKA, whose main purpose is to promote fun.

“It’s a great way for people who are becoming more and more sedentary to get out and exercise and enjoy themselves,” Mr. Lowry says. “And everybody is so happy when they’re playing. You only see smiles out there on the field.”

After each game, members of the various kickball divisions retire to their own sponsor bar, usually located near their playing area. The D.C. Capital Division, with 16 teams, takes over Kelly’s Irish Times near North Capitol Street. Each team wears T-shirts with its own color and the WAKA logo, and the bar becomes filled with enthusiastic kickballers, with groups of players wearing shirts either red, blue, purple or various shades of green.

Team members also receive discounts on food and alcohol from the Irish Times or their own sponsor bar. Kickballers shoot pool or throw darts, mingle with other teams, dance or just plain enjoy themselves. At the Irish Times, they usually listen to folk-rock singer Pete Papageorge, who has also written a song for the league called “Everybody Loves Kickball.”

Ms. Bitticks, who has been a WAKA member for three years, says that going to the Irish Times after a game can be a lot of fun. Her team stands in front of Mr. Papageorge and sings and dances most of the night.

“We interact with other teams and do team shots of our team color,” she says, with a laugh. “We also do a chugging race. There was a mixed chugging race where a girl and a guy went up for every team and tried to chug beer the fastest.”

“It is a lot of fun just meeting new people,” Ms. Bitticks adds. “And you’re meeting a bunch of new people that you might not have ever crossed paths with.”

Mr. Tillett also joins his teammates at the Irish Times after their kickball game each Wednesday or Thursday evening. Mr. Tillett says that teams sing along with Mr. Papageorge and usually sing their team’s own theme song.

“Gang Green sings their version of ‘Yellow Submarine,’ except that they substitute green for yellow,” Mr. Tillett says. “Our song is ‘Wild Rover’ and we yell out ‘Red Rovers.’ There’s just a lot of mingling and socializing and recounting of games and a little bit of trash talk for the upcoming games.

“And, of course, there’s the consumption of beer and food and all the things that go on in a bar,” Mr. Tillett says.

Ben Accurti, a 26-year-old federal contractor who lives in Alexandria, plays at the Washington Monument in the D.C. Federal Division. After he and his teammates finish playing kickball on the monument grounds, they walk up to the Exchange, their sponsor bar at 1719 G St. NW, eat dinner and have some drinks.

“It’s a great way to meet people,” he says. “Socializing is definitely a huge part of kickball. As far as athletic ability goes, anyone can have fun kicking a big red ball. Just thinking about it brings a great big smile to your face. It’s definitely a blast.”

Mr. Accurti also points out that the Exchange works with his kickball division for social events that raise money for charity. Each division in WAKA contributes to a charity, often through guest bartending or passing the hat at sponsor bars.

Adam Gluck, president of the Maryland Rockville Division, says his division of 16 teams, which play at Grosvenor Field near Grosvenor Lane in Bethesda, socializes at the Barking Dog in Bethesda. Usually, more than 100 people show up at the division’s sponsor bar, which has a dance floor and pool tables.

“I think every team is just out for a good time,” says Mr. Gluck, whose team’s name is Gluckzilla and the Fleeing Villagers. “You can’t play kickball and take it too seriously.”

Mr. Gluck’s division raises funds for the American Association of Blood Banks, which is affiliated with Children’s Hospital. The D.C. Potomac Division, another division that plays at the Washington Monument, also holds fund-raisers for the Capital Area Food Bank.

• • •

Kickball romances bloom in the WAKA as well. Mr. Lowry says several couples who met while playing kickball are now married and one couple is expecting a baby.

“So we’re going to have our first kickball baby [this year],” Mr. Lowry says.

Mr. Mellin, a 26-year old Falls Church resident, says that although some people who play kickball are looking for romance, others just want to have a good time.

“But inevitably, when you put a whole bunch of people of similar ages and interests together,” Mr. Mellin says, “you’re going to have some dating.”

Mr. Powers says some teams have a no-dating rule among team members.

“You don’t know what kind of drama that could bring up,” he says.

Mr. Gluck says his roommate and his girlfriend met by playing WAKA kickball.

“It’s a great way to meet a lot of new people,” Mr. Gluck says. “I met a lot of people last summer that I didn’t know before and we hung out together throughout the off-season. We even played on a couple of sports teams together.”

Mr. Accurti, who has played on WAKA for three years, has also made a number of friends from playing kickball. He didn’t know anyone in the Washington area after moving from Harrisburg, Pa.

“I met a few people through work,” he says. “But really, the most people I’ve met in the area have been through kickball. It’s an activity where, if you put the effort out, then you’ll meet tons of people.”

Mr. Mellin, whose company is being absorbed by another, has been notified that his job will be abolished. He says kickball has become an excellent way to network as well as meet people.

“It’s worked out pretty well as a network tool because some of the job leads I’ve had come from people I’ve known in kickball,” he says. “And I’ve gone pretty far with their leads. So it’s a great networking tool and a great social thing.”

Some people also find the fact that adults play kickball amusing.

After a recent alumni weekend at Clemson, Mr. Mellin says his fraternity brothers in college teased him about being on a kickball team.

“I never heard the end of it,” Mr. Mellin says. “They were getting so much fun out of it. But kids in college take it for granted that they can make friends overnight just by mingling around. But when you get out in the real world, it’s not so easy to do.”

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