“Uno, dos, tres!”
With that, schoolyard dodgeball commences, Los Altos style. On the resounding “tres,” 30 or so teenage boys sprint headlong at each other on the back basketball courts, their sneakers skidding to a halt only at mid-court where a line of 5 green and red rubber balls have been aligned.
One kid falls and laughter erupts. He stands back up with a smile, only to see two balls flung in his direction with only split seconds to react. The leading ball sails over his head harmlessly, only to be caught by a teammate who loudly yells in exaltation. The second ball, however, hits its mark soundly in the chest. The smile fades into an expression of shock as the ball bounces to the ground.
A reverberant battle cry is heard from across the court. I stand sheepishly in the back, attempting to comprehend if this is war or actually a sport—or both. Caught up in my thoughts, I forget to notice the rubber bullet coming my direction and before I know it, I too am a victim and find myself standing on the sideline.
Back and forth the game continues, both sides taking their respective casualties. Two catches later and I’m back in, standing behind senior Antonio Cesareo, the organizer of the match. He tosses me a ball.
“Let’s go man!” Antonio yelled.
A ball whizzes towards me, but this time, I block it down effortlessly. I charge forward and heave the ball in the direction of no one in particular except the masses of people on the other side (I guess my strategy is not very smart). The ball finds a target though, an unexpecting kid in black, and I’ll be the first to tell you that there is no better feeling in the world other than pegging someone with a ball. It may be primitive, but in my mind, rubber ball plus human contact equals euphoria. Who doesn’t want to release their inner bully?
Dodgeball season, I come to realize, is no longer the sole property of May. Rather than wait for the school-wide tournament this spring, Antonio and his friends have recently begun to sharpen their skills at the back of the school. Many former hand-ballers were converted into full-fledge dodgeball competitors with the help of four rubber balls Antonio bought at Walmart and a wish to bring together more people and thus have more fun.
“A lot of us got bored of playing handball, as only two kids can play at a time,” Antonio said. “So we just started playing dodgeball because anyone can just play and have fun.”
Located at the basketball courts behind the gym, dodgeballing has ensued and continues to grow. More than 30 students compete, divided amongst 2 teams, seniors versus everyone else, and rules are strongly enforced. Everyone plays fair—no head shots, no arguing.
“Lunch is short,” senior Victor Arias said. “We don’t have time to fight.”
Though the games may appear to be chaotic, Antonio insists that they have had few issues regarding organization and playing.
“Everyone just wants to play,” Antonio said.
That could not be more evident by the pure hustle with which these games operate. There is an unwritten rule that exists that if any side is down to only a handful of players and little action is ensuing, the game will be restart, with the dominating side taking the victory. There is no scoreboard though, no game count to record wins and losses. These students play to play and will do so hastily in order to get in as much dodgeball action as they can fit into lunch. A tournament takes the fun of everything that is dodgeball: what is supposed to be unorganized chaos becomes bogged down by competitiveness. Here at the back of the school, schoolyard games are reverted to their most natural form and it’s hard to not feel a little nostalgic about it all.
Anyone is welcome to join the games, and it is likely that soon adjacent games will sprout, so long as space permits. The popularity of the dodgeball tournament has truly spread school wide, and it’s great to see a student event become a regular lunch time activity without the need for the use of the gym or anyone to administer it.
On a brilliantly warm Friday afternoon, I return to the courts to take in the games for one last time. The pack of kids still remains, but in the week that I was gone, everyone seemed to get better. The throws have more zip and more catches are made. A long battle ensues, probably the longest game I’ve seen played. The game goes on unwavering in intensity but is still lightened by smiles and laughter. When the dust clears, sophomore Sergio Maciel is the lone player still standing. His teammates triumphantly pick him up and parade him around the court for a moment, but only until an incoming ball strikes one of his carriers. Again, laughter pervades the court.
“Next game, man!” everyone yells.
Uno, dos, tres … DODGEBALL.