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Kickin’ It Old School

Posted On January 3, 2015

The adult kickball phenomenon gives local Wilmington adults the right to play

By JAMIE PENN          Photos by SUSAN FRANCY and JONATHAN C. WARD

Remember those loud, dusty playground games that dominated recess, sent students happily climbing fences to retrieve balls, and forced kids into finding their own way in sports? Kickball was the one game that anyone could play. It didn’t require coaches, or referees; it was both playful and competitive, funny and maddening; and somehow, it still had an inherent structure that was adhered to, one way or another.

For years it was dismissed as a juvenile segue into more sophisticated, competitive sports that require a heightened level of skill and expertise. But, in 1998, three college buddies at a bar in Washington D.C. changed all that.

Johnny LeHane, David Lowry, and Jimmy Walicek had recently entered the professional world, and on this particular occasion they sat at the bar pining for the camaraderie inherent in college sports and clubs. In the end, the answer to their predicament was easy: Let’s organize a kickball game! And the rest is history. 

Soon after, they formed the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA), which now represents 200,000 players across the country in 35 states, as well as teams in Afghanistan and Iraq (sponsored by WAKA).

Kickin’ It in Wilmington

The Wilmington Kickball League joined the club in the spring of 2008, and they haven’t missed a season yet. Kaye Ward, the founder of the league had been in Wilmington for about a year when she discovered the sport. She’d gone to a friend’s kickball game while visiting him in Baltimore, and that’s all it took. She was hooked. 

“I didn’t even know such leagues existed. And, when I found it, I knew I had to do it. I immediately came home and looked into starting one,” Ward said. What she loves most about the league is that everyone is in it to have fun. The social aspect is as integral as the sport aspect. 

“We like to say we’re a social club with a sporting habit,” Ward said with a laugh. “Before I started, I think I knew six people in town that I knew and wanted to spend time with. And, within a year of starting the league that number jumped to 60.” 

Bash Gomez, owner of The Juggling Gypsy on Castle Street in Wilmington, has been on a team every season since the league was formed. He loves the social aspect, but he also loves to win.

“I get way into it,” said Gomez. Their games at Optimist Park in downtown Wilmington across from Greenfield Lake can attract a small number of fans, and Gomez aims to please. “Most people don’t want to go diving after the balls and mess up their knees over a game like kickball. But, if there’s a crowd, sometimes you have to be ESPN-worthy.”

Of all the sports, though, why this one?

“It’s just a ridiculous way to have fun,” Gomez says. “It brings back some old, fun memories. It’s a competitive team sport without the pressure. It’s a sport you can get really into or you can do it very recreationally.”

On their website, WAKA outlines four core values it was founded on, the fourth of which is to “live fun.” Embedded in that belief is a sense of sharing happiness. “We have social fundraising events, twice each season. Pretty much everything we do we find a way to make it fun,” said Ward. “We’ve raised money for DREAMS of Wilmington, pet rescues, and the Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington. And, every year we join WAKA in the Kickin’ it for Cancer campaign.”

The Wilmington WAKA league has also either advised or sponsored other local leagues by loaning equipment, etc., like the all-women’s league at Martin Luther King Center.

Girls Will Be Girls

Aretha Session, a downtown Wilmington native, started her own league this year to offer women in her community a healthy, social outlet. Session says the league is a great outlet for girls of all athletic ability to learn how to work together and support one another. The ages of the women range from 18 to 50.

“I played softball for about 15 years, but I wanted to find something we could all do; something that wouldn’t make the girls feel pressure. And, I wanted to start something that would encourage everybody to come out,” she said.

And they do. Eight teams participated this past season, with at least 20 girls on each team, including Session’s two daughters. Games are held at the Martin Luther King Center, and the neighborhood crowds in every week during the season to watch. “It’s all about coming together around something that’s good for us,” said Session. “We’re there for each other. We’re a team.” Session said now that the ball is rolling, everyone wants in. 

“It’s only going to grow,” she said. “We’re going to keep this going. It’s been so successful that Porshe Murphy (daughter of William Murphy – to whom the Martin Luther King Center is dedicated) and I are making plans to start a co-ed youth league.”

‘Tis the Season

Kickball is always in season in Wilmington. Whether you’re in it to just kick around or you already have visions of attending the WAKA Founder’s Cup held in Las Vegas every year, there’s a place on the team for everyone. Some are in it for the exercise and others are just as excited about socializing at the “sponsor bar” of the season after the games. Either way, having fun is what it’s all about. After all, more fun means happier people. And happier people could mean a better world.

For more information, go to www.kickball.com, or contact Kaye Ward at kward@kickball.com. To find out more about the all-women’s league, contact Aretha Session at 910-264-2691.

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