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The Evolution of Immaturity: MUSA Turns 10!

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The Evolution of Immaturity: MUSA Turns 10!

MUSA Kickball turns 10!

This fall, MUSA turns 10!

Once upon a time adult recreational team sports were limited to action-packed games often first introduced to skillful participants at the club, high school or collegiate level.  Softball, volleyball, and soccer leagues were popular and plentiful around the country.

A resurgence of interest in childhood games and vintage sports has created new opportunities for a growing community of athletes, extroverts, wallflowers, and aficionados. The variety of both co-ed and single-sex adult recreational sports has exploded over the years and leagues now offer year-round opportunities to play kickball, dodgeball, wiffle ball and more. Tournaments for games like cornhole, beer pong, flip cup, and roshambo are organized, well-attended and often include prize money.  As both old and new leagues develop different ways to continue the evolution of adult recreational sports, it’s apparent that it takes some strategy and commitment for a league to maintain its popularity.

The Midwestern Unconventional Sports Association (MUSA) celebrates its 10 year anniversary this fall and its longevity makes me wonder, what have been the contributing factors to its success? MUSA offers opportunities for adults to play kickball, dodgeball, putt-putt golf, basketball, volleyball and soccer. Several months ago I played my first adult kickball game ever on a MUSA team. The Virgin Territory experience made me re-evaluate my perception of the league and realize there was more to it than just playing a game.

To get a behind-the-scenes understanding of the league I asked founder, Joe Szatmary (aka “Da Commish”), about MUSA’s evolution from an idea to a thriving association since 2000.

 

Joe Szatmary

OSM: Is it mind-boggling to you that MUSA and kickball have survived ten years?

JS: I have mixed thoughts on this. Yes, the fact that we have been around 10 years and grown to the size we have is a bit nuts. However, when you look at the simplicity and fun of the game, it doesn’t seem so shocking. Kickball has always been a great game and I don’t see that going away. As long as we keep doing a good job running the league and tourneys with a few fresh twists added here and there, I think folks will continue to want to have fun with us.

OSM: Will MUSA last another ten years?  How, and why or why not?

JS: It really depends.  If folks keep having fun with it and we’re able to accomplish some of our goals to develop league opportunities for all skill levels, I think there is still a lot of room to run with this.  The MUSA mindset welcomes a broad range of players and we try to keep it interesting for all. We have teams that mix well together competitively and socially, and many individuals that want to play more than once a week. There’s no reason for the fun to end yet.

OSM: Do you think kickball is the primary reason the league has become so popular or have the other sports contributed to the league’s growth as well?

JS: The primary reason we’re still around is because there are fun people who have wanted to see us thrive as a league – a good mix of players and field monitors.  Dodgeball isn’t the most user-friendly sport, although it truly is spectacular.  I think what we offer with league play and tourneys, as well as other events, rounds things out a bit but kickball seems to be our bread and butter.

OSM: What was the best advice you received when you tossed around the idea of starting a kickball league?

JS: It wasn’t advice really, but more of a rhetorical question. “So, you are going to go ahead and do this, right?” So I did. After the league was created, the advice to have a spring season and not wait a full year after the fall season was pretty great too.

OSM: What was the biggest roadblock to getting the league started?  To expand it?

JS: At the time, kickball wasn’t really on the radar so there was a stigma associated with playing – a sense that it was somehow athletically inferior.  That was all well and good though because we had a solid group that signed up just to have a good time, play some kickball and party hard afterwards.  Getting that initial 100 people was a bit tough, as was getting a parks and recreation coordinator to grasp that fact that adults wanted to use a softball field for something other than softball.  Expansion really has been a function of finding the right people who want to run with the idea in their own market.  We have been pretty hands off with our affiliated leagues, but do offer support with the website, insurance and inclusion in our Golden Lunchbox tournament at the end of the spring and fall seasons.  In the end though, if you don’t have someone to do the leg work in new markets, you can’t expand. Period.

 

OSM: Do you think there are enough kickball virgins still out there and what’s the best bait to get them on the field?

JS: Yeah, I think so.  It’s really just getting the word out, and better yet having ‘em lace up a pair of shoes and start playing.

OSM: If you could invite 2-3 kickball celebrities and/or founders of kickball leagues to dinner, who would you pick and why?

JS: Well, I would like to meet most other independent league founders and explore how we can make kickball more centralized.  I’m not talking all leagues necessarily under one roof, just something where there is an agreement or an attempt to promote the idea of multi-league participation in every league’s major tournaments.  I would like to get more involved with the leaders at Kickball365.com too, but there are a lot of differences in play, such as size of the kickball.  Also, manbunting was and generally is a huge taboo for us, but some leagues openly discuss and give props to guys who are good bunters. In the end I think a system where teams travel to cities and play the rules of the host league provides proof that a team is solid no matter the circumstances.  That would be some great kickball to play and to watch.

OSM: What ideas are you scheming up for the fall season?

JS: A website redesign, new ball and dropping down a player defensively.  We’re also trying to come up with a fun tourney format for teams that don’t make the Golden Lunchbox tourney.

OSM: Most people don’t keep the same jobs or homes ten years any more but there are people who have been playing since 2000.  You’ve managed to maintain accountability for the league and employ other people to administer it.  How were you able to start a family, switch jobs, train for the Ironman twice and keep kickball in your life, as well as the lives of others during this time period?

JS:  I try to appreciate the fact that there are opportunities to do things in this world.  Not taking some risks or putting no effort into life isn’t an option for me.  Admittedly, I have been stretched a bit thin some of the past 4-5 years and appreciate the efforts of those who have helped keep the league humming. Over the years, I’ve counted on people who’ve wanted to put in the time and see MUSA continue to grow.  I’m always interested in talking to people who want to take an idea and run with it to improve the league.

OSM: What obscure sport would you be willing to try for an OSM Virgin Territory article? Or what sport would you like to see covered?

JS: Hook me up with some sponsors, someone who knows how to orienteer and some other crazy bastards and I would love to do an Eco-Challenge adventure race.  Or some ultra-running events.  Give me a call if you need someone to try a sport with some running or biking.

OSM: How has kickball changed your pace of life and what you do for fun?

JS: Four kids have changed my pace of life and how I enjoy kickball.  It’s not so much about partying for me now as it is trying to help promote and provide a fun league for the people that play in it.  Besides being a big kid with my own family, I enjoy endurance athletics and coming up with other goofy ideas to get people together – be it kickball related or otherwise.  I like to play kickball on one fun and one competitive team every season.  I’d love to try indoor kickball one of these winters.

OSM: What do you think it is about MUSA and the game of kickball that keeps people coming back to play and be part of the organization?

JS: Hopefully, that we provide great value and a fun, high-quality experience.

OSM: Thanks, Joe. It’s obvious the past 10 years have created a lot of memories and it sounds like there are still many more to be had. Congrats and good luck.

It’s true that the success of the league is dependent on continued interest and new blood. However, it wouldn’t be what it is without a few key players. I asked two of the MUSA originals to tell me about their experiences over the years.

Mark Nelson, aka Nelly, joined MUSA in 2000 after hearing about it on campus. Prior to kickball he was involved with local softball leagues and social organizations but says he’s become more involved with kickball than any of the others. He contributes his dedication to the casual atmosphere and the opportunity to meet new friends and stay active.  “Kickball isn’t the most grueling thing, but it’s nice to get outside and hang out with friends and play a sport most of us grew up with,” said Nelly.

When asked if surprised that MUSA is celebrating ten years, he said he’s most amazed by the resilience so many players and teams have had. “There are many teams closing in on 20 seasons in the league.  It’s pretty remarkable to look at pictures of all of us from, say 2002, you can see a noticeable age difference,” he explained, “That is something you don’t really notice year after year. It’s also pretty remarkable to see how it all has evolved in terms of playing style and skill level.  The skilled teams now are much better than the skilled teams 7+ years ago.”

Ray Roberts, more commonly known in the kickball world as Mundoman or Ray Ray, found MUSA in fall 2001 when a friend heard a commercial on a local rock station and called him. Ray states that kickball has since become his life and cites his involvement as a catalyst to many great friendships. “This league has become my social outlet. I have met so many great people; some don’t even play,” he said, “Of the 25 greatest people ever in my life, 50 percent of them I have met in this league and I am proud to call them friends.”

While the main competition is to be league champions and earn the highly coveted “Golden Lunchbox,” there is also the unofficial challenge of coming up with the best team name. Of the over 1500 team names, Nelly is a fan of “Kicktosporidium” and “Doo Doo Chop.” Ray listed The SituRaytion, Ray’s Anatomy and Ray-Ray’s Angels among his favorites.

Will it last another 10?

Over the past ten years, MUSA has evolved into a thriving organization and social lifeline for many. The fact that more than 1700 teams have taken the field over 16,000 times since MUSA’s inception is pretty solid evidence that the organization provides an environment and social outlet many have come to rely on. As new recreational sports hit the mainstream and vie for a spot in the hearts of obscure sport enthusiasts and weekend warriors, the next ten years depend on the continued loyalty of the current members and the recruitment of new talent.

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