Every Thursday night at Joaquin Murrieta Park on the northwest side, a childhood ritual returns.
There's a red squishy ball, a referee and players scattered around the bases. Yes, kickball is back in style.
Here, though, the players aren't kids, and it's not recess. Co-ed teams of adults are clad in team uniforms featuring varied hues—red, orange, yellow, green and more. It's a virtual rainbow of bodies throwing, kicking and running.
You hear the same sounds of youth—cheering, clapping, shouts of "go!" and "woo-hoo." But there's a significant addition: the opening pop of cold beers.
Welcome to adult kickball.
In the United States, there are hundreds of teams in the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA). In Arizona, there are eight leagues—seven in Phoenix, and one in Tucson, named the AZ Blister league. AZ Blister consists of 13 teams this season, and team names are as colorful as the uniforms—including Will Kick for Beer, Your Balls Are Foul and We Got the Runs. (Visit kickball.com/azblister for more information.)
Bobby Yoho is the customer-service representative for the AZ Blister league. He schedules games, recruits team members, holds fundraising events, answers players' questions and more. He says a team has between 16 and 26 players. In Tucson, there are three or four seasons per year, 10 weeks each on average. An all-star game and playoffs cap each season, and the league champion is in the running to attend the national tournament.
As a kid, you had to play well to get to the playoffs. As an adult, you have to also plan and strategize, using WAKA's official rules, which outline the playing field, equipment and game play.
If strategizing isn't your thing, that's OK, too. "If your intent is to go out there and have fun, then you can do whatever you want," says Yoho. "For example, there's a team called 99 Problems but a Pitch Ain't One. (As of press time), they haven't won a single game, but I guarantee you, they're the ones with the smiles on their faces at the end of the night."
Yoho says the AZ Blister league has a good mix of competitive teams and teams whose members just want to have a good time. But at the championship in Las Vegas, it's very competitive, says former player Eric McConnell.
"It's competitive here, but there—they took it to a whole different level. ... One team from New Jersey said they trained year-round. Our team was one of the few teams who drank," he remembers.
As I looked around the fields at the park, coolers of ice-cold beer on the sidelines seemed to be as common as the bases on the field. "We have a permit to have alcohol within the gates of the field," says Grant Zeluff, of the Chug Norris team. Alcohol flows after the games, too, when team members congregate at The Hut.
Yoho, McConnell and Zeluff all say adult kickball is a great way to network and make friends. Zeluff points out it is a diverse group of people—UA students, employees from Raytheon and other companies—"who come out after work to release and relax."
Adds Yoho, "Everybody looks forward to Thursday. It's a day to ... let go."
Yoho says he's seen players as young as 21 up to middle age. As I looked at the players, I saw mostly 20-somethings—thin, in shape, with no cellulite or wrinkles.
"The majority of players are career-oriented. They are out there to have fun, to get away from their normal daily grind. ... I see a lot of Facebook posts about kickball on Thursday, saying they can't wait," says Yoho.
An article from Washington City Paper, an alt-weekly in D.C., popped up as I researched adult kickball. In true alt-weekly style, the author of the piece, Amanda Hess, goes off on a CNN reporter who wrote a tame article about adult kickball. The headline pretty much sums up Hess' thoughts: "Adult Kickball More About Fucking Than Kicking."
I surmise the adult-kickball experience depends on one's desire. But fun seems to be the common theme—and athleticism isn't necessary.
"If you can at least run to first base, that's more than enough," Yoho says. "Eventually, you will learn how to kick the ball, how to catch it or throw it. The team will teach you how to do it. I (see) a lot of people ... who are not necessarily the best athletes, but they're having fun. And that's the whole point."