Not so Shiny Diamond: the story behind quitting kickball

photo by Daniel Glass

I quit kickball a year ago.  No, I wasn’t a sixth grader moving on to junior high, leaving elementary school recess behind.  At the time, I was 30 years old and had been playing adult kickball recreationally for four and a half years.  I know what you’re thinking: she got old, she got hurt, she got married, or she got pregnant.  The answer is none of the above (thank god).  Actually, I now play roller derby, a sport that requires much more of my time and my body than kickball ever did.  And while becoming a roller girl and having less free time played a part in why I quit kickball, it wasn’t the main reason I left.  It was more like the excuse I needed to get out.

I started playing kickball in the spring of 2005.  My original team, The Crushinators, was captained by my best friend and her husband and made up of their siblings and various longtime friends.  We frequently had “Family Fun Nights” and decided to begin playing kickball to ensure that we would continue to hang out on a weekly basis.  While I was at first skeptical about joining an organized sport in my late 20s, it soon became the highlight of my week.  Kickball combined all of my favorite things: friends, friendly competition, and drinking adult beverages outside in nice weather.  Also, it often led to post-game trips to a local bar, where the fun would continue.  The kickball part of it was strictly secondary, even though we played quite well and enjoyed winning our games.  As the weeks passed that first season, we grew to know several people on other teams, and were talked into moving from Minneapolis to St. Paul for the fall season.

Crushinator

Crushinator

At first, the fun continued.  Meeting new people and getting to know a core of teams led to hanging out at the fields for the entire evening.  We’d grill as a division, rent kegs as a division, drink boozy cider to warm up during chilly fall games, and even had adult sno-cone nights in the spring, complete with schnapps and other libations.  It was like all the best parts of camping, without having to camp.  Friendly rivalries grew across the seasons between the teams, as we continued to play and get to know each other.  Witty banter was exchanged out on the field, all in good fun.  And then something shifted.

I’ve tried to put my finger on when exactly it happened, but I can’t.  I think it was somewhere around my 3rd year.  All I know is that the fun-loving, boozy atmosphere began to become overshadowed by douchery. Friendly rivalries became less than friendly, loud-mouthed bullies became more prevalent, and negativity began to run rampant.  It became more drama than a hospital scene in a Telemundo soap opera.  My team wasn’t immune to this phenomenon either.  We began yelling at each other over dropped balls in the outfield and base-running mistakes. There was even a time or two where things became heated with our opponents and fights were narrowly avoided.  Kickball became about winning first and fun second, which led to me dreading weekly games. Nothing takes the joy out of kickball faster than adults with something to prove.

Sno-Cone Night

Sno-Cone Night

My original team disbanded because the captains had their first child and it became harder to get everyone to commit to attend games regularly; I believe this was ultimately for the best.  Some of us continued to play on other teams, but we were no longer at odds with each other on the field week in and week out, which probably saved our long-term friendships.  Of course, it did lead to the end of “Family Fun Nights,” but it’s harder to gather a group of people and drink beer when children are in the picture.  I played for two other teams during the last year and a half of my kickball career that were made up of people who I had met through kickball:  first with the Cleveland Steamers and my final season with the Arlington Tigers.  We had a lot of great times together and because of some of those teammates I began to make the pilgrimage to Milwaukee for the End of Season tournament every fall.  I will be eternally grateful for this decision, because I met a great number of people there who I now consider close friends.  I may have lost about five years off my lifespan due to liver damage, but for awhile, my faith in the joy of kickball was renewed.

Milwaukee seemed to have continued the camaraderie between teams that we had lost and in fact, taken it to a whole different level never really experienced in Minnesota.  The teams hung out together at the fields, they hung out together at the bars, and the social aspect seemed to take precedence over win-at-all-costs competition.  There were teams that had theme nights, playing in full costume, teams with lush buckets, teams that did Irish car bombs ON the field, and teams that played weekly games of quarters at the bar after games.  I wanted to recapture that magic back home that I felt whenever I played kickball in Milwaukee.  Of course, playing one weekend, two or three times a year in a different city, compared to playing week in and week out for six months in my home division is a vastly different experience.  The more I came to know people in Milwaukee, the more I came to learn that they were facing many of the same issues we were.  Teams being created solely to win led to other teams leaving who didn’t want to deal with playing against loudmouth asshats, mocking them for losing a sport they had signed up to play simply to have fun with each other and meet new people.  It’s one thing to lose soundly to a team of good-natured people; it’s far another to lose to a team who yells at you, and each other, making you feel like you’re being bullied on the playground.

VandeRAY Industries

VandeRAY Industries

I’ve spoken to other people who quit kickball about why they left and I find that there isn’t just one reason.  Marriage, children, jobs, responsibilities, different interests, liver damage – answers vary.   We’ve all come to a point in our lives when what we are currently doing is at odds with living like the grown-up we need to be.  We can no longer close down the bars on weeknights or eschew our errands and chores to play kickball three nights a week.  Different interests crop up, as do different priorities.  All the people I interviewed, however, stated that before leaving they had become concerned about the movement towards a more competitive team base, which was pushing out many of the fun-based teams and everything kickball had originally stood for.   Some kickball leagues have now set aside specific divisions for less competitive play, which I hope will solve the problems that contribute to many teams quitting. But, I worry that in some cases it’s too late and there won’t be enough interest to continue the league in the future because so many people and teams have already been pushed away.

Most of the other people I spoke to who quit kickball went on to play another sport, whether it be hurling, volleyball, softball, or in my case, roller derby.  I obviously didn’t leave kickball because I hated competition and neither did they.  All of us found other sports with a level of competition we find acceptable and it differs widely.  Some of us are highly competitive, while others are just involved to get a little athletic activity and meet new people.  We all still make sure to drink a beer or two afterwards, though, keeping the kickball spirit alive and well.

I’ll never regret the four and a half years I spent playing kickball, despite the negativity that began to prevail.  The friendships I developed or strengthened and the memories I have because of it are priceless to me.  A lot of my “good ol’ days” stories center around the experiences I had and the people I met through kickball.  Joining also opened my eyes to the fact that I do like playing organized sports, and introduced me to the people who would ultimately get me to try out for the North Star Roller Girls.  And it’s great to know that down the road, if I wish to recapture a bit of immaturity and abuse my liver with copious amounts of alcohol, the big red ball will be waiting for me.  But douchebags beware:  I’ve got one hell of a roller girl hip-check and am not afraid to use it.

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