If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.
At least that’s the philosophy offered by Patches O’Houlihan, as the grizzled coach hurled tools at his players in the film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Tale.” And if you’re a member of Team Boss, you can dodge them pretty well.
The group of five Niskayuna high school students were crowned champions of the resurgent sport after they vanquished each of their opponents during a dodgeball tournament at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center gymnasium Sunday, drawing dozens of area teens. Once relegated to grade school playgrounds, the sport is growing in popularity nowadays in the wake of the cult following of the 2004 box office smash staring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller.
“We were going off the movie,” admitted Mike Lecce, a junior from Niskayuna, after his team won the tournament. “That’s where we were coming up with our strategy.”
Even the rules of the old sport were somewhat foreign to the reigning champions before the film came out. Classmate Kadeem Miller said most of his knowledge of the sport came from what he saw on the silver screen.
“That’s how we knew the rules,” he said. “Because of the movie.”
Written by Union College grad Rawson Marshall Thurber, the comedy follows Vaughn and a group of misfits from “Average Joe’s” gym as they attempt to beat Globo-Gym, the big-budget gym located across the street, during a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament The movie’s success spurred regional leagues in both Texas and Massachusetts, as well as a cable network show that aired for three seasons.
The surge in the sport’s popularity prompted Rachel Kutil, the JCC’s assistant youth director, and Chris Belden, the sports and wellness director, to host the center’s first dodgeball tournament this year as a way to recruit teens for the Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish athletic event similar to the Olympics. Kutil said the first tournament — open to students from 8th to 11th grade — drew enough interest that she’s already planning an adult competition for spring for adults.
“It’s kind of a dodgeball craze,” she said.
The students mimicked dodgeball plays from the movie’s final showdown and laughed over memorable quotes on the sidelines. But when it came to competing against one another, the more than 30 students brought a decidedly serious attitude to the floor.
The teams debated strategies and sported stern game faces once the elimination round of the tournament began. The multicolored rubber kick balls sailed through the gymnasium with enough velocity that the seriousness the students brought to the competition was immediately evident.
“We’re coming back for the gold next year,” quipped Niskayuna junior Mike Casey, shortly after his team was eliminated.
Likewise, classmate Joe Twitty said his team would try to mount a comeback next year. He jested they might take up O’Houlihan’s unconventional brand of training.
“We should have,” he said. “We would have been in the finals if we did.”
With victory in hand, Team Boss members proudly donned T-shirts proclaiming them the center’s dodgeball champions of 2008. The students said the win would give them something to brag about in school this week.
“These are definitely being worn to school Monday,” he said holding out the shirt.