First annual Dodgeball Open tournament aims to raise money for JDRF to fight diabetes
The 2004 comedyDodgeball: A True Underdog Story stars Vince Vaughn leading a band of misfits trying to stop a sleazy corporate gym owner (Ben Stiller) from taking over their small fitness club. The climax comes when Vaughn and his humble cohorts go head-to-head with Stiller’s dastardly squad in a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament. Players are frequently whacked in the head, conveying an impression that it’s a dirty game not for the faint of heart.
That’s the Hollywood version. In Vancouver, this sport is far more civilized, according to Keith Bao, one of the founders of the Vancouver Dodgeball League. Its code of conduct says that “actions detrimental to the league will not be tolerated”, including regular hits above the shoulders. Anytime this happens, the thrower is required to immediately apologize—something viewers didn’t see in the Vince Vaughn–Ben Stiller movie.
“Our mission statement is to build a community based on fun, fitness, service, and spirit,” Bao tells the Georgia Straight in an interview in an East Vancouver Starbucks. “Based on those elements, I believe we have created a sporting environment that is unmatched in Vancouver.”
Sitting with him is Victoria Mui, the local coordinator of the International Dodgeball Association. She tells the Straight that the league promotes honesty and sportsmanship, relying on “peer refereeing” to determine if someone is struck by the ball. Those who are hit must leave the game.
“We have this motto, ‘When in doubt, you’re out’—instead of challenging a call,” she says.
They say this sense of fair play has fuelled tremendous growth in the sport’s popularity over the past seven years. “This is the reason the community has grown from six players all the way up to over 1,500,” Bao says.
Bao’s brother Kevin came up with the idea after attending a dodgeball tournament at Simon Fraser University. Today, there are 210 teams in the Vancouver and Coquitlam leagues, with the vast majority of players in their 20s. The 100-percent volunteer-driven VDL has two seasons per year, with teams divided into three tiers.
Bao explains that teams have up to six players, including a minimum of two women. He notes that they often shine at catching the ball, which enables teammates to re-enter the game.
“We’ve readjusted our game to make it as safe as possible,” he says. “We don’t play with rubber balls. We use foam-core balls. You can still throw them hard, but they don’t hurt as much.”
Mui admits that it’s still possible to sprain your fingers, noting that one player in the league can fire the ball at about 74 miles per hour. “I think the really great thing about dodgeball is that it’s one of the few sports where it can be played in a coed environment,” she states.
Near the end of July, Mui says, dodgeball players will take over the Richmond Olympic Oval for a large-scale tournament, with proceeds going to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The tournament is the brainchild of firefighter Jeff Cartwright, whose son Liam was diagnosed last year. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that kills insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, the body cannot absorb sugars that build up in the bloodstream, damaging internal organs. Over time, this can lead to kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes, and blindness. Mui’s 30-year-old sister also has the disease.
Mui and Bao are encouraging new teams to sign up for the event. In addition, there will be entertainment offered by the Richmond-based urban-dance troupe Freshh!, which performed on the TV show Canada’s Got Talent. “Our event is not just about dodgeball,” Mui says. “We want to support local talent and community events.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.