At 9pm every Tuesday and Friday, members of the Capitol Hill community meet at the Cal Anderson tennis courts to play a couple hours of dodgeball. The balls are supplied by a bunch of dodgeball enthusiasts, who have been hosting the game for years.
When I first moved from Tacoma to Seattle, I was very concerned about losing a sense of community. Tacoma had so many opportunities to contribute an be a part of the city. That’s where the Frost Park Chalk Off’s (a community maintained, weekly chalk competition) came from. That’s even what sparked this website. So when I moved to Seattle, I was uncertain if that same spirit would be alive. Walking around Pine St. one late summer evening, I happened upon this group of dodgeballers wailing rubber at each other. The fence outside the tennis courts were crawling with onlookers who “oohed” and “aahed” at some of the great hits and beefy throws. The people playing were not some organized league of elitist ball-bombers, but instead…everybody. Hipsters, gays, jocks, nerds, old and young, black and white, nearly every demographic you could think of and some you never would expect to subject themselves to having plastic balls hurled at them were taking to the courts with smiles on their faces.
I will admit, I was too shy to enter the arena the first time, but not a week or so later, I found myself skipping on the green, squeezing yellow rubber, readying a grip for launch at my opponent. There are some basic rules: After the first point of contact the ball is technically dead. If you haven’t been in yet during a round and there are still more than five people remaining you can go in. These rules are governed by the masses and happily shared with all newcomers.
That sense of sharing is sort of what Capitol Hill dodgeball is about. It’s not about who gets out, or who got nailed in the face, it’s not about how you move or throw a ball, it’s all about having a good time. If you’re playing, you’ve earned the respect of your community, because you’re helping to create a good time for all. That is what community is about. That is what this is. What I feared I wouldn’t find in Seattle, turned out to be right in my own neighborhood.
But now this longstanding staple of community has come to the fire as complaints have reached city offices and discussions are being had by Seattle Parks and Recreation whether or not to force dodgeball elsewhere or grant “official” permission to use the Cal Anderson tennis courts. This King 5 video describes the situation pretty well. Meet me below the embed to hear my say on the matter.
Clearly dodgeball is important. It was huge for me in developing a sense of place and community, as it is for many others. Further, the Cal Anderson location is an ideal location for the diverse crowd, for promotion this event, displaying community in action and because it has been there for years. The conflict comes from apparently a handful of tennis players who believe the courts are being damaged by dodgeballers. Such a claim is intensely unfounded. To suggest that a rubber ball thrown by even the mightiest of persons is creating any damage to concrete is absurd. Even if Randy Johnson was throwing every Tuesday night, he wouldn’t make a dent. Tennis balls on the other hand, when hit with a racket are more likely to chip away at the ground, though still practically impossible. So if no real damage is being done, perhaps I should humor old man winter’s Pandora’s Box suggestion.
This tennis advocate suggests that dodgeball opens up the courts to alternative sports that may cause real damage like bicycle polo. To suggest that dodgeball leads to bicycle polo is almost as crazy as saying gay marriage leads to the marrying of animals. What he’s suggesting is that if people see that dodgeball is allowed on the courts they’ll assume they can do anything there. Why this is nuts is that there are still rules. You can’t go shooting pellet guns at the tennis courts because that’ll do real damage. This is pretty apparent. It’s not as if dodgeballers are the gatekeepers to all morals. If bicycle polo creates real damage than they are responsible, it’s not dodgeballs fault. Okay, I’ve already given way to much attention to this pin-headed argument.
So what then? Perhaps the tennis advocates suggest that the tennis courts should be used for tennis because that’s what they’re made for. Perhaps, but community facilities are for communities to decide how to use. In this case the community is hundreds of people who have played dodgeball compared to a handful of tennis players that, chances are, won’t even use the courts at 9pm. Even if they would, what’s to stop other tennis players from getting their before these particular advocates do and forcing them to wait or play at another time?
As one dodgeball regular suggested in a comment somewhere (how do you like that citation English degree?), if dodgeball is kicked off Cal Anderson, they’re going to just play somewhere else and displace some other group of tennis players, so why not do the least harm and give the majority what it wants – exactly what it already has: community.