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Face Full of Memories 

San Francisco now has two -- count 'em, two -- adult dodgeball leagues

Wednesday, Aug 21 2002
If you remember anything about growing up on America's playgrounds -- and even a lifetime of therapy can't repress all of those golden years -- you remember the searing shock of a large, red ball striking you in the face. Let the memories flood back: You crumble to the blacktop, your nose numb, your throat choked with dust and shame, astonished that the big dumb kid would aim at you, the scrawniest fifth-grader. So you pick yourself up, hurry to a safe place on the perimeter, scoop up a bouncing ball, fix an executioner's stare on the few remaining dodgers, and overcome your humiliation the only way you know how: by flat-out nailing that skinny shrimp who thought he could hide behind the fat kid.

Well, happy times are here again.

Don't call it an underground scene just yet, but San Francisco has two -- count 'em, two -- dodgeball leagues re-enacting your worst childhood memories on a regular basis. The aptly named San Francisco Bombardment Society gathers at 1 p.m. on Sundays in Golden Gate Park's Bunny Meadow, behind the Conservatory of Flowers. Its founder, 24-year-old Sean Speer, started the group about a month and a half ago -- mainly because he thought "San Francisco Bombardment Society" T-shirts would make him the envy of his peers. The shirts haven't materialized yet, but he says the league has attracted a fair number of folks who share his passion for the, er, sport.

"It seems like everyone I talk to says, 'Oh my God, you play dodgeball? I haven't played that in years,'" Speer says. "Originally, it was just about the T-shirts, kind of a whimsical thing, but I have a ton of fun out there. You know, most sports are so institutionalized, there's a lot of attitude and one-upmanship. But this is dodgeball -- we don't give a shit."

Actually, dodgeball has been institutionalized in other cities to a surprising, even alarming, degree. Chicago, for instance, plays host to both the World Dodgeball Association and the National Amateur Dodgeball Association, which attract hundreds to their tournaments. There are as many dodgeball rules and variations on rules as there are playgrounds across the country, but the San Francisco leagues keep it simple: Two teams, whose members are divided between those inside the dodge zone and those on its perimeter, try to eliminate opposing players by either pegging them or catching their thrown balls. The winning team is the one with the last man dodging.

Although the game is traditionally staged on a basketball court, the Bombardment Society, an admittedly laid-back group of enthusiasts, stages its battles on the lush grass of Golden Gate Park.

Such a forgiving playing surface simply won't do for Lloyd Rivera, a 25-year-old San Francisco resident who has formed his own league called the S.F. Blood Warriors (who, he's quick to note, have not actually spilled any blood yet). The league meets every other Sunday at 1 p.m. on a blacktop at Presidio Middle School, at 29th Avenue and Geary Boulevard; the next game is scheduled for Sept. 1.

"We play in this sunken blacktop area," Rivera says. "So it's kinda like Rollerball, except no wheels and no neoprene/latex jumpsuits."

Rivera says he formed the league because he was tired of so many basketball games degenerating into dodgeball matches. And he thinks it's a shame the sport doesn't occupy a more prominent place in the adult world.

"You're not supposed to hit people in the face or slam into each other at work -- that's looked down upon now," Rivera laments. "Well, this is a nice way of pegging people in the face and getting away with it."

Before the Blood Warriors' first outing a few weeks ago, it had been years since Rivera played a real game of dodgeball. He was astonished to see people stretching before the match, but the next day he understood why: All the body blows, direct hits, and frantic leaping made it difficult to get out of his chair. And Rivera, a self-described "scrawny Filipino," believes an essential part of dodgeball is dressing the part, so he wore a red shirt with broad stripes across it, too-short jeans, and nerdy sneakers.

"Certain things never change," he says. "Some people look like they're going to get hit, so you go after those people. You rely on a survival instinct, and it was ingrained in us on America's schoolyards."

The leagues are open to anyone who wants to watch or play. Eventually, Rivera hopes, the two dodgeball groups will square off against each other.

"Our ultimate goal is to beat the Bombardment Society," he says. "Maybe we can make a cheesy '80s rivalry out of this."

-- Matt Palmquist

The World's Smallest Kite

Tough economic times call for tough measures. Though we've never considered ourselves a salesman, we do have the financial burdens of Enron (our utility bill) and WorldCom (our phone bill) on our shoulders. So when the opportunity arose to participate in the world's newest profession, selling the world's smallest kite, we took it.

Our kite dealer, who will go nameless, had a "great opportunity" for us. "You can make literally hundreds of dollars in one day, man, and it's, like, completely legal," he said.

The last part is not entirely true. The SFPD gives $280 tickets for vending without a license, but our dealer assured us this was rare. Since there were no other immediate opportunities to make mad dough, we gave it a shot.

The world's smallest kite is, see, a kite that's about as big as your hand, and actually flies. It sells for $5 and falls apart after five minutes. It's brightly colored, though, and out-of-towners who have been herded into our local tourist corral, Pier 39, love it.

Our first mistake was purchasing the kites up front. If we sold them all there would be a big payoff, but for the time being 60 kites set us back $180. Each kite beyond that was pure profit, however, so on a recent sunnier-than-normal Saturday we got out of bed at the crack of 11 and dragged ourselves down to the wharf. Standing somewhere between the human statues and the Bush Man, we flew demonstration kites and had nothing but our wits to go on. Our sales pitch went like this:

Us: It's the world's smallest kite! Handmade, these high-quality kites actually fly. Your money back if you can find a smaller one! Who wants to try it? (Spying a semi-interested-looking toddler holding hands with his mother, who was wearing a North Dakota State University Bison sweat shirt) How about you, little guy? The world's smallest kite is so easy to fly that even the world's smallest kid can do it!

Toddler: (Puts out sticky hand)

Mother: No, I don't think so, Brad.

Us: (Approaching)

Toddler: (Clamoring for kite)

Mother: No, Brad.

Us: (Placing kite in toddler's hand while simultaneously trying to keep the kite up in an almost complete absence of wind)

Toddler: (Lighting up)

Kite: (Lying limply on the ground)

Us: Wow, buddy, you're good at that! Isn't it fun?

Toddler: (Smiling)

Us: (Turning to mother) Now, they're $5, but I can offer you two for nine. If you want to look at our inventory here, we've got lots of different colors. Do you have any more children?

Mother: (Frustrated)

Toddler: (Putting kite in mouth)

Mother: Brad, don't do that. (Turning to us) OK fine, here. (Hands us the money)

Us: Come back soon!

This was an unusual case, however, and in total we hawked fewer than 20 kites. In the demonstration process we broke three, and two more got tangled in strollers and bicycle spokes. Toothpicks and papier-mâché are not the most durable construction materials.

By the time it was dark we felt dejected and cold. We had to take the bus and the underground all the way across town to get home. We vowed never to sell the world's smallest goddamn kite again.

The only problem was that we still had a boxful of them, about half of which we'll need to sell to break even.

-- Ben Westhoff

About The Authors

Matt Palmquist


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