I may be wrong, but I believe that everyone has a story to tell about a major success growing up. For some, it is that time they hit a homerun in little league to win the big game. Others may have a memory of winning the spelling bee in front of the entire school. Or maybe it is that time you nailed the lead in the school production of Anne Get Your Gun. My greatest triumph came in eighth grade in the midst of the most trying of all school-level sports: dodgeball.
I’m sure you all know the basics to dodgeball. If you aren’t familiar, let me remind you of some of the basics. Dodgeball consists of two teams that hurl rubber balls at each other the goal of which is to strike the opponent until all of your opponents have been knocked out of the game. If you get hit by a hurled ball, you are out. That is the basic idea. Check out this video for more clarification:
Each school will have variations on these rules based upon the nature of the school and the playing surface. In my middle school, our dodgeball court was a basketball court. So there was a basket at each end of the court. There were also two additional four additional basketball hoops on each side of the court, making three basketball hoops on each side or six in total. I give you this description so I can provide you these “house” rules of dodgeball at my school:
•If you catch a ball thrown at you then (1) the thrower is out and; (2) a member of your team is back in the game
•If you make a basket in any of the hoops on the opposing team's side your entire team can return to the game
My story takes place late in the school year. The Presidential Physical Fitness test had passed. The Physical Education teachers had become less and less motivated to create workouts and other activities to get us ready since the tests had passed. As per usual, the class was separated to play that most beloved of games; dodgeball.
As you all know, there are three distinct types of dodgeball players when you are in elementary, middle, and high school. (1) The type that aren’t into playing the game so they stand in the back and talk until they are, inevitably, pummeled in the face by a giant red rubber ball which will inevitably result in crying and freaking out. (2) The type that is WAY too competitive so they are running around grabbing each and every ball, rolling around to avoid any ball thrown their way, and firing Randy Johnson-style fastballs at type number 1, pummeling them in the face like a low flying bird.
(3) Then there were finally kids like me. Not necessarily super aggressive but into playing games and having some fun. We weren’t all stressed out about losing but we also weren’t so lethargic that we ignored the game all together.
On this particular day it seemed that all the types came together to fall into category 2. Maybe it was the full moon that was hovering on the horizon. Perhaps it was the fact that it was so close to the end of the school year. Perhaps it was the jolt cola that was put into all the water fountains that day resulting in excessive sugar highs. Who knows? No matter the cause, this was a serious bout of dodgeball.
On top of that, two classes were pitted against each other for an all-out war. So instead of the approximately 15 players per team that you would typically see on the dodgeball court there were approximately 30 players per team. A total of 60 tweens covering the space of a basketball court with 20-30 rubber balls flying about like the Normandy Invasion.
The battle was fierce. No bars were held. Players were coming in and going out without any team getting the upper hand. I remember working up a sweat and getting knocked out but brought back in a few different times. This was looking like a battle for the centuries. That is when the tide started to turn for the worse.
The opposing team went on a tear. My team was falling like an odd daredevil from the 1800s going over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. There were only three of us left on our side compared to the 13 standing in our competition. We were determined to make a stand like the Spartans. The opposing team timed their throws to pick us off one by one but hurling multiple balls at the same person. Then it was down to two. We dodged. We ducked. We dipped. We dived. And we dodged. More balls kept flying. My partner, John, took a chance and made a throw. Caught! I was the last man standing.
My approach was simple. Try to gather as many balls on my side of the court then protecting myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have the cannon of an arm so trying to pick people off from the line wasn’t really an option when the entire other team would stand on the back line. it was stalemate. I needed a new plan. So I took the risk.
I provided a few balls to the opposing team to try to get some traction. I was hoping that this would draw some of the enemy closer to the line and so I could make a quick dodge and pick them off. I knocked out two opponents before they caught on and starting holding onto the balls. I needed another alternative. I had to take a risk. I had to take the shot. If I missed the shot then it would be an easy catch on the rebound and I would be out and the game would be over. I would have to slink away and hide my shame. But if I could make it. Oh, if I could make it.
I picked up my ball and lined up my shot. Standing as close to the line as possible and taking my time. I had never played organized basketball so I was far from Michael Jordan. I was athletic enough so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself but no Olympian. I was calm. I was zen. I was ready.
I started to take my shot when out of the corner of my eye I spied one of the more powerful opponents sprinting towards me. I had miscounted. They had another ball. I was doomed. I could sense that I would be mid-shot and take a dodgeball right to the crotch. This was the end. Or was it?
I stopped my shot with both feet off the ground and twisted my body hard to the right. The ball came flying at me as my feet hit the ground. In a maneuver that would inspire Keanu Reeves years later, I bent my back and allowed the red rubber ball to fly just inches over my head. I was saved and my heart was pounding. With renewed confidence I turned and fired the shot without even thinking.
It felt like time had stopped. The red rubber ball flew through the air like that Goldfinger song. I don’t know if this really happened, but I swear that my entire team was either standing or kneeling; holding their breath. I fell backwards and slid across the court like I was NBA player hitting a fade away jumper at the buzzer. It was inevitable. It was fate. It was nothing but net.
A thunderous cheer erupted as my team stormed the court. We were back in the game with a major swing. My teammates grabbed up balls with abandon, hurling them at the opponent and picking them off one by one. It wasn’t long until the court was cleared and our team had gained victory. It seemed that almost immediately after the last opponent fell the bell rang representing the end of class. There would be no rematch. The class was over. The school year was over. In a comeback worthy of the history books, my middle school gym class had emerged victorious over another middle school gym class. It is a day that I will never forget.
What is your greatest athletic achievement? How do you remember the event? Leave a comment so the world can bask in your glory.