Dodgeballs probably haven't slammed off their bodies in more than 20 years. But put one in their hands, and it's like they're back on the playground.
That kind of childhood exuberance is what members of the Mecklenburg Athletic Club have to look forward to this summer. Jason Rockhold and James Ungerer founded the group in January as a chance for people — young, old, male, female, black, white — who are just moving to the city or looking for a good time to meet and bond. The club hosts about five events each week, from trampoline dodgeball to softball games to yoga classes, and holds a monthly social at the bar that sponsors its softball team. By mid-May the group had grown from just the two founders to 289.
Rockhold noticed a need for different ways to make friends outside of the workplace and bar scene when he moved to Charlotte in February 2011.
"You have such an influx of people coming to work for all of these companies, and they don't really know anyone outside of their company," he said.
Charlotte's population rose 35.2 percent, from 540,828 to 731,424 between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With such a high increase, Rockhold might have a point.
ABOUT 30 CHARLOTTEANS stood on an immense blue and yellow trampoline floor, enclosed by walls, balls in hand, during the club's April trampoline-dodgeball game, in Pineville.
"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball," one participant joked, quoting the tool-throwing dodgeball-team coach in the film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story.
Bright-colored dodgeballs flew in every direction as participants hopped around. One used two balls inside his shirt to create man boobs. The lively group is a mix of men and women, young and old, students and professionals. Some had never met until that evening.
Another local intramural sports organization, SportsLink, has had similar success in attracting new members — but on a much larger scale. What started out as a grassroots operation with four softball teams in 2000 has turned into a 22,000-member organization. From beginner to advanced levels, it hosts games, in nine different sports, and social events around Charlotte, including the popular Zombie Run Challenge.
"We've been growing by leaps and bounds every year," founder Christian Crute said.
Since its inception he has spent less than $5,000 on advertising, instead relying on word-of-mouth for marketing. That's not bad for a company that counts about 2 percent of Charlotte's population as members.
Intramural sports are big on college campuses, too. Since it began in 2005, American Collegiate Intramural Sports has collected 200 colleges across the country — covering a student population of over 2.8 million — by sponsoring intramural sports, such as flag football, basketball and specified fitness programs. Besides attracting corporate sponsors, who pay for uniforms and other expenses, and designing intramural programs, it organizes regional and national tournaments. Its events are popular at UNC Charlotte, Appalachian State University and N.C. State University, which hosts the annual national intramural basketball tournament.
IN THE BACK CORNER of the dodgeball trampoline "field" in Pineville, newcomer Mark Carey flipped a ball to an empty-handed teammate. Carey, 24, recently finished graduate school at Drexel University in Philadelphia and is working at CSL Plasma while preparing for medical school.
"I didn't know a single person here when I came out," Carey said. "Coming back from school, I guess I didn't keep in touch with a lot of people, so you just have to find a new group of people to just do things and get out of the house with."
Carey, who shies away from the Uptown bar and club scene, says athletics and sporting events are what interest him most.
"Charlotte doesn't seem to have much besides bars and clubs, really, so it's just nice to get out and do something different."
GET OUT THERE
Intramural-sport resources for Mecklenburg County
Sportsconnectionnc.com — league sports for all ages, bowling, laser tag and family-night-out planning
Champsportsinfo.com — youth sports and adult, coed softball league
Ymcacharlotte.org — youth and adult sports leagues
Charmeck.org, Search: Athletics — adult and youth sports programs and information on renting fields
NoDa Softball League (information on Facebook) — open to everyone
QCFFL.net — Flag football league in Charlotte