I have vivid dodgeball memories. None of them are good.
At my middle school, everyone wore the same mustard gold short-shorts and maroon tank tops to gym class. The coach -- a hefty middle-aged woman with a graying brown ponytail, no makeup and a battered clipboard -- would strut into the changing room to count heads. "Good," she'd say, smacking her gum, "an even number. We're playing dodgeball." Next, she would pick team captains and the humiliation would commence.
But now, years later, thanks to Charlotte's own Rag Tag Armada, I've finally got a different take on the game.
RTA is a band of goofy, mismatched misfits -- one of several teams in the Q.C. -- who gather at Tremont Music Hall every other Monday to play dodgeball ... or what the club promotes as "Hot, dirty, ball on ball action."
The group, many of whom met at the now-defunct shop, Lucky Cycles -- which was owned by RTA's ringleader Cory Slusher -- also plays softball, kickball and football together, in addition to riding their bikes for charities like 24 Hours of Booty, which benefits Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong foundation.
RTA aims to win every dodgeball match, of course, and do manage to annihilate most of the teams they play against at Tremont, a venue that is normally home to musical acts like the Revolting Cocks and festivals like the Punk Rock Picnic.
Tremont's manager, Lisa Barr, says she understands that the game may seem like an unusual fit for "a dirty rock club," but she hopes her patrons will realize how much fun they can have, drop their stereotypes and get involved. On dodgeball nights, she offers drink specials. "Lately," she said, "that means a pint of Natural Light for $1.50."
"Anything you can drink beer while playing -- we're in," says Slusher.
Fellow RTA associate, Jake Thorsell, says, "Cory is a bad ass. He's the best player here." Thorsell, with his half dark, half bleached mohawk and ability to hit the ground while dodging an incoming ball, ping back up and not drop his lit cigarette, isn't so bad himself.
The last time I saw the team play, RTA knocked out an entire team in less than one minute with all five of their team members still standing.
In response, a Tremont referee announced, "Y'all are gettin' tested for steroids."
Rules of the game
Dodgeball might be a violent and degrading, if relatively harmless, game, but it's not exclusive; anyone can play. All it takes is a little effort and acceptance of the fact that getting pegged is part of the deal. No matter how good you are, eventually all players will get smacked; however, says Jeremy Mojica, a player from Lake Norman, "If you hit someone in the head or face, you're out. That's not cool."
Jason Howie, a Tremont employee, says they spent last year ironing out the rules, which are a modified version of the National Amateur Dodgeball League's rules. Players can't dribble the ball, but they can bounce it ... once. They can't hold onto any ball for more than five seconds unless they're the last person standing on their team. And there's no coming back; once you're out, you're out. Each team has one time-out per game during which they can substitute a player, though that's a rare occurrence.
A regulation dodgeball court looks very much like a volleyball court, without a net. Tremont's court is spray painted in orange and yellow on the floor in a room usually reserved for gritty rock bands. There are four poles on the left side of the court, near the stage, covered in half-peeled band stickers. Sometimes balls, and even players, bounce off the poles during a heated match. The far wall has an open garage door, curtained with a net. Other potential complications, like metal ladders and sawhorses, fill the opposite corner while a brown tarp hides the sound equipment.
Once the ref says, "Ready, set, go," three of each team's five players bolt for the centerline in an attempt to scoop one of six balls. Quickly, they back away. They have to be behind the attack line, 10 feet from center court, before they can throw. A flurry of balls crisscross the court, and it's over. Most games last two minutes or less.
To avoid being hit, players sometimes jump into impressive leg splits. They're fast, nimble and bendable. Occasionally, a ball flies through the door into the bar. Spectators or barflies chase it down and toss it back into play.
Players defend themselves with their own balls, using them as a shield, sending offending balls bouncing in the opposite direction. The real prize, though, is when someone catches another player's ball. When that happens, the person who threw it is out.
Sometimes there are issues at the centerline when players forget which balls they're supposed to grab. When that happens, the ref repeats his game-night mantra, "You can only mess with your balls. You can't go messin' with other people's balls."