The tourists walking along the National Mall stopped snapping pictures to take in the drama.
A large group of young adults had gathered on the grass across the street from the Washington Monument to compete for a national championship.
Eight regional champions from as far away as New Mexico and as close as the District faced off for the World Adult Kickball Association Founders Cup, and with the rodeo clowns, rally noodles and the big red ball it was hard not to stare.
The Founders Cup turned the Mall into part elementary school playground, part college frat party.
Last Saturday’s event was the showcase of an increasingly popular activity among adults. WAKA was formed in 1998 in Washington and participation has doubled every year since. There are 600 teams in 18 states.
While WAKA has expanded across the United States, its best teams are still found near Washington. This year’s championship game featured Bethesda champion Off In Public and Reston-based Kick Asphaults.
Kick Asphaults ended up winning 5-2 to secure their second consecutive Founders Cup. Five of the previous seven champions have come from the District and the other two championships were won by teams from Virginia, including one by Kick Asphaults.
While the competition in Washington may be more intense, the national success of teams from the District doesn’t necessarily draw more players to kickball.
“Honestly, I was just looking for something for me and my friends to do,” said Rob Jouvenal, the 25-year-old captain of Off In Public. “We just chose kickball. The competition in this area is a little stiffer since this is where it started.”
Much of WAKA’s popularity comes from the fledgling social scene it creates. Each WAKA team has a sponsor bar, and teams retire to their respective watering holes after each match. League rules state all players must be at least 21.
After the games were over on Saturday, the participants gathered at the bar where the idea for WAKA originated, Kelly’s Irish Times on F Street in Northwest, to celebrate a successful season.
The atmosphere of WAKA draws a wide range of people — from those looking for competition to those just looking for a good time. Most of the teams spend the majority of their time in the bars rather than on the field.
“It’s been fun,” said Raishad Peoples, 26, of the Washington-based Gym Class All-Stars. “I’ve met a lot of people doing this. It’s a mix, but you spend more time doing the social thing.”
That was obvious in one of the first-round matchups between the off-the-wall Rusty’s Wranglers and the more serious Off in Public.
Some Rusty’s Wranglers players wore cowboy hats, the catcher dressed as a rodeo clown and players handed out the personal trading cards made by a team member who’s a graphic designer by trade.
As the Wranglers joked around and urged passing Boy Scouts for support, Off In Public quietly prepared for the upcoming game. Off In Public came into the tournament as the top seed, and the only accessory to their uniforms were the black head and armbands some players chose to wear.
Off In Public won 7-1 and it was apparent which team was there more for the competition than the party. Bethesda’s squad bunted runners over and even drew walks.
“Supposedly, we’re playing a group of kickball Nazis,” Tara Dix, captain of Rusty’s Wranglers, said before the game. “Someone even sent us a scouting report. Sometimes WAKA people get pretty serious. We try to keep it light.”
But even Dix admitted to getting wrapped up in the competition. Players made sliding catches and argued with umpires. One player even dived headfirst into first base trying to beat out a throw.
This was Rusty’s Wranglers first year in WAKA, but they already fit in just fine with the rest of the league. After all, WAKA peddles a child’s game to young adults.
“We thought it sounded fun,” Dix said. “They sounded pretty silly, and silly’s our ethos.”
A look at some of the rules for kickball, according to the World AdultKickballAssociation:
5.02 Teams must field at least eight players and no more than 11. 7.01 Regulation games last five full innings.
8.01 No bouncies. A bouncy called as such results in a ball and is:a. a pitched ball that does not touch the ground at least once before reaching home plate;b. a pitched ball that exceeds one foot in height from the bottom of the ball during the last bounce prior to crossing home plate;c. a pitched ball that exceeds one foot in height from the bottom of the ball during the first bounce after crossing home plate;d. a pitched ball that is higher than one foot at the plate.
9.02 All kicks must occur:
a. at or behind home plate. The kicker may step on home plate to kick, however no part of the planted foot may be in front of or cross the front edge of home plate;
b. within the kicking box.
10.04 Hitting a runner’s head or neck with the ball is not allowed, except when the runner is sliding.