If you mention dodgeball to someone over 18 years of age the most likely response will be to either praise or denigrate the 2004 film of the same name starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn. Dig a little deeper and you are likely to unearth tales of gym-class heroics or nightmarish recollections of humiliation. The Eagle Rock Yacht Club’s aim seems to be to target the latter group and provide them with a safe haven for stress-free bombardment.
Chris Alves and Craig Fowler founded the first chapter of the Eagle Rock Yacht Club (members call it ERYC but don’t pronounce it “eric” — it is strictly E-R-Y-C) in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2008. The organization is a public charity whose mission statement declares it to be “an adult dodgeball league, a circle of friends, an army of do-gooders. We establish and run adult dodgeball leagues while partnering with the local rec center to develop original programs for children in under-resourced communities in Los Angeles and Detroit.”
In more concise terms, the Eagle Rock Yacht Club is basically a charitable fight club that has elected to switch out bare-knuckle fists for squishy rubber balls.
Martine de Bijl moved to San Diego in July 2015. She had participated in the Eagle Rock Yacht Club (as well as other dodgeball leagues) while living in Los Angeles. When she arrived, she immediately sought out any sort of local dodgeball leagues similar to those. When her search came up empty, she had the idea of attempting to start a chapter down here. She contacted Alves and was given the green light.
4044 Idaho Street, North Park
The first step was finding a recreation center that would work for both the sport and the community. After a bit of a search, North Park Recreaction Center was chosen. The inside was a bit cramped since the single basketball court would have to be split in half to host two simultaneous games. The community seemed to be a perfect fit, though.
“We want to be in an area where hopefully we can make an impact once we have enough people,” De Bijl explained. “North Park is kind of cool because there are always kids’ programs going on. That’s what we try to focus on when we’re doing our activities with the gym — working with the kids that are there.”
She continued, “In L.A., there are some kids that started with Yacht Club dodgeball when they were five or six. Now they’re in junior high or high school, and it’s, like, ‘What happened?’ You kind of keep an eye on them when they’re around…because they’re always around. They, in turn, listen to you a little more if you are around. There are three days a week where you see these kids, and you can say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How’s school?’ It’s kind of like a check-in.”
The next step was getting the word out. According to De Bijl, this has been the biggest hurdle: “Not a lot of people know that there are adults playing dodgeball in San Diego.” In order to gain awareness, she utilized an old-school, punk-rock approach. “I went to Kinko’s and spent a hundred bucks on flyers and I walked up and down El Cajon and University; anywhere I could put up a flyer I put up a flyer,” she said.
She also developed a relationship with the neighborhood tavern Tiger! Tiger! (3025 El Cajon Boulevard.) The group would head to the bar for drinks after games and, in turn, the bar would tweet @Eagle Rock Yacht Club and post their flyers. One of these flyers caught the attention of 27-year-old Leo O’ Driscoll, who moved to San Diego last year and was looking for new meetups.
“A year ago the thought of playing dodgeball had not even crossed my mind,” O’Driscoll wrote in a letter to the Reader. “I didn’t know it was an option. I was new to sunny San Diego, unemployed, and looking for ways to meet people. I had joined countless meet-ups and had failed to attend a single one. I had considered various sports leagues but was deterred by high costs or fear (‘athletic’ is not a word anyone would use to describe me). Still, after spotting a poster for adult dodgeball, I decided this would be the sport I would check out. I had of course seen the movie and was interested to see how reality would match up to the silver screen.”
O’Driscoll went on to detail how his initial trepidation quickly dissipated when the games began. Within a year he had become a dodgeball addict. He ended the letter with an open invitation to come and play with the group and enjoy the “magic.” He would be “the devilishly handsome bald guy getting down to Drake.”
It was an invitation that only a fool would accept, so I freed up a couple of Sundays to go play with the group. The first day of reckoning was a roasting late-August afternoon. I hopped on my bike and rode up to the rec center (luckily in my neighborhood) decked out in athletic shorts and sneakers. I also brought a backpack stocked with water, a Gatorade, a towel, and five bucks for admission. A local basketball practice was wrapping up when I entered the gym. None of the kids on this day would stick around to throw balls at one another.
I looked around for a devilishly handsome bald man but instead stumbled upon O’Driscoll. He introduced me to De Bijl, who in turn gave me a quick overview of the group and the game. I tried to recall the basic rules of dodgeball from my youth. I remembered that a ball hitting you knocks you out and a caught ball eliminates the opposing team member who threw it at you. But would a ball that had bounced off a wall and then hit you knock you out? Could I use a ball to block another ball? Could I catch a ball coming off a wall to get an opponent out? Another facet of my youth was returning to me: lack of preparation for a test.