It's Thursday night, and in the West Hollywood Recreation Center, it's pandemonium. On the court, Hit It and Quit It faces off against Scissor Me Timbers. Again and again, they charge back and forth in waves, rallying and hooting.
Cheesy '80s anthems like "Danger Zone" and "Dude Looks Like a Lady" blare over the speakers but can barely be heard over the din as almost 80 players do battle.
Their weapon? Just a bright 7-inch-diameter soft foam ball.
The game is dodgeball, and it has come a long way from its discomfiting past on elementary school playgrounds. These days, it's a roaring craze among grown-ups. Recreational leagues are springing up everywhere, and players, mostly in their 20s and 30s, get hooked on a mix of good-natured aggression, social promise and old-fashioned team spirit.
"It's just a really good outlet," says Mat Herman, a dodgeball enthusiast (by day, a founder of online retailer Apt2B.) "Where else can you throw balls as hard as you can at people?"
There are dodgeball leagues from Echo Park to Torrance, and there was even a competition at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. But nothing rivals West Hollywood, said to be the largest independent league in the country, where nearly 500 players are split between leagues Tuesday and Thursday nights.
"It's a cult. You have your friends and you have your dodgeball friends, said Chris Rallo, who works in an architectural firm. Though temporarily sidelined by an injury, he was there to cheer on his Scissor Me Timbers teammates, most of them first-timers at the sport this season. "In the beginning, none of us knew what we were doing."
Even for the uninitiated, the rules are simple: Seven balls are lined up on the center line and, at the referee's whistle, up to 20 people on each team run from their back wall to scoop up them up. Players aim at their opponents, and if there's a direct hit, the player hit is out. Unless the player catches the ball. Then the thrower is out. The game ends when everybody on one side is out, and the team that wins the most games in a given time period, say an hour, wins the match.
"I grew up playing sports," Herman said, "but a vast majority [here] have never played sports — they've never played on a team before — and it's a new sensation for them as grown adults. That's how it became so feverish."
The virtual Pied Piper of WeHo Dodgeball, Jake Mason,
The virtual Pled Piper of Weho Dodgball, Jake Mason, a choreographer and children's dance teacher, dropped in on a dodgeball game five years ago and hasn't let up since. After getting teams across the city up and running for the World Dodgeball Society, he teamed up with the City of West Hollywood three years ago to start an independent league. And tonight he's welcomed everyone with a reminder that each team in the coed league has to have at least five women.
"You can only play with 15 males on the court," he booms over the mike. "Well, post-op males."
There's also a veneer of camp in the glib team names and team T-shirts, from Pretty in Pink's bubble gum shade emblazoned with Molly Ringwald's teenaged face to a WeHo Yacht Club's trompe l'oeil captain's blazer, with printed brass buttons and ascot. Some women favor short shorts and some men wear iridescent leggings. And vice versa. Knee pads are a given.
"You get to dress up and be ridiculous," Mason said, and the social aspect is just as important as the competitive zeal, and sweaty postgame revels jam the patio at a bar. "It's hard to meet people in L.A. I'm a really social person, and before this I can't imagine how I met people."
If you're interested in playing on a WeHo Dodgeball team, go to wehododgeball.com and check out the registration page to sign up for the new Tuesday night Buddy Draw league, which begins June 18. You can also register to be a substitute player on either Tuesdays or Thursdays, another great avenue for beginning players. For other Los Angeles area dodgeball teams, go to www.dodgeball4ever.com.