This past December, my wife and I sat down with our elementary school-aged son to discuss possible afterschool activities to participate in through the spring. We were thinking basketball…soccer…maybe even ice skating and/or hockey. Our son was instantly sold on the idea of extracurricular dodgeball. We signed him up without hesitation.
Dodgeball is not a nuanced sport. It’s a Darwinian contest where those with Popeye arms rule overall, and the slow-moving and weak get repeatedly plastered in the face with red, basketball-sized, playground balls. It was far from my favorite Physical Education class activity at Lincoln Junior High School(um, Go Spartans!). If I let my mind linger too long on those days, I lapse into a waking fever dream, remembering the burly knuckledraggers who somehow always managed to be on the team opposite mine. These newly-pubescent goons were capable of hurling a ball so forcefully hard,it would warp and twist in the air before taking out one of its two intended targets: My face or crotch. The physical pain was extraordinary. The emotional anguish–as you can see–haunts me to this day.
A few weeks back, I took my son to the gym for his weekly Lord of the Flies throwdown. We got there five minutes late, expecting to see a melee in progress. When we arrived,the gym was quiet; the only other people there were the coach and one other boy.
Cold and flu season had wiped out my son’s peer group. With only three people, including the coach, on the basketball court/dodgeball battleground, the viability of a legit dodgeball contest was in question. The other boy’s high school-aged sister and I were sitting in the rafters as the coach considered what to do. “You guys wanna play?” he asked, looking up at the girl and I. A newly-formed,big, broad smile threatened to cleave my son’s head in two. He clearly loved the idea. I couldn’t say “no.” I couldn’t wimp out.
“I’m in,” I said, jumping from the rafters to the gym floor. The other boy’s sister groaned and followed me down.
Because the coach and I were the only adults, we played on opposite teams. His mission was clear: Take out my face and crotch. And he had the Popeye arms to do it. I learned some very quick lessons. First, I lob the ball more than I actually hurl it. Dodging my incoming shots was easy work for the kids. For the coach, it was merely foreplay to the machine gun onslaught of returns he’d fire back at me. With the speed and accuracy of CC Sabathia, the dodgeballs screamed out of his hand, connecting hard with my doughy body almost every time.
Throughout the hour of play, I desperately tried to up my game. I twisted my body to the right and raised up my knee for momentum. I tried to duplicate the roundhouse throw the coach had taken me out with time and again. Failed attempts, one and all. It was like junior high all over again;only this time I wasn’t embarrassing myself in front of 11 year-old girls, I was doing it in front of my son. He thankfully may be just young enough to not have realized how completely Daddy sucked it up on the court.
I woke up the next morning to the sound of my alarm clock, reflexively leading me to push up on my right arm and hit “snooze.” I let out an audible yelp. My arm was sore to the touch. Yes, that’s right, it was sore from playing Dodgeball.
I was sore for the whole day.
And I only played dodgeball for an hour.