For many people, kickball is little more than a child's game, a backyard sport played for about as long as it takes to reach adolescence. If you were to ask one of those individuals to play now, they might give a look of amusement before politely declining in favor of more mature activities. But dedicated kickball players would say that's just because they haven't tried it.
"I would invite them to actually join us, check out a highlight video on thisiskickball.com, and just give it a try," said Matt Kemph, a player and founder of The Circuit. "I would just invite them to hold judgment and play the game with a couple friends and see if they enjoy it."
In 2010, Kemph founded Kickball365, a forum that allows players from anywhere in the world to connect with one another, share interests, and join or explore other teams. In addition, the organization hosts The Circuit, a series of kickball events in cities across the country. It is the only organization of its kind, awarding cash prizes and holding mini-vacations for teams.
This weekend, The Circuit is hosting the second annual Circuit Cup Championship, a sort of national championship for teams that play kickball, the game in which players kick a ball that's rolled by a pitcher and try to score runs, as in baseball or softball.
Last year's event took place in Las Vegas; this year's is being held in New Orleans. Sixteen of the 26 participating teams will earn cash prizes, and the winning team will earn $10,000.
This year, the organization has given out $36,000 in prize money, and more than 126 teams have participated in events.
Shockwave, formed in 2010, is one of two Maryland-based teams competing in the Cup this year. The other is DeJa' Vu.
Shockwave has come far in its two years of existence. Originally named "The Brown Hornetz," the team, almost entirely composed of Maryland natives, started out playing simply for enjoyment. After a winless first season and the appointment of player Liz Tutwiler as captain, newly named Shockwave began taking kickball more seriously.
Its efforts have not gone unnoticed, as the team has been nominated for four honors in the 365 Circuit Annual Awards, including Breakthrough Team.
For players such as those on Shockwave, however, playing kickball is about much more than the trophy, the prizes or even the game itself. It's about socializing and having fun.
"Usually, we just tell folks to come out [and] watch one of our games and they will understand why we spend our time and have so much fun playing kickball," Tutwiler said. "The players on SW are friends on and off the field as well."
Carlos Isley, a 26-year-old firefighter from Washington, loves playing kickball partially because of the connections he has made.
"We're like a family," he says of his team Shockwave. "If I need a babysitter one day, I can go to one of my teammates to watch my child; it's a positive atmosphere."
He also recognizes the impact The Circuit has had on his kickball career.
"The Circuit brings the best out of us," he says. "[It] shows you as a team, chemistry is everything. I've been playing sports all my life, so I'm built for The Circuit, which I enjoy, I love, to be honest with you."
Tonya Lewis, a finance manager for CACI International and co-captain of Shockwave, agrees that The Circuit has afforded her and other players unique opportunities.
"The Circuit is the most awesome experience I've ever had," she said. "It's so many talented individuals, men and women, and it's definitely a means for learning new techniques [and having] an opportunity to meet people from all over the world who love and enjoy this sport."
Though Kemph said he doesn't know exactly how popular the sport is, he said "tens of thousands of people play kickball annually in 43-plus states."
Players say there's a reason for that.
"Kickball is as real as football or basketball," Lewis said. "The only difference is we're not getting paid that kind of money."
As a result, players must balance the demands of a career with the games and practicesBut to them, it's worth it.
Lewis says kickball provides her with stress relief.
"[In the] beginning of the year it's not too bad because we're in training, but when it gets to February, March, April, it gets kind of hard for me to juggle because it's tax time ... but I just make it happen because it is my outlet," she said.
Lewis foresees the game growing.
"I just say, 'Look out,' because it's going to become bigger and greater over the next few years," she said.
"At the end of the day, it's no different than playing as a child. All you're doing is adding a coach and a little more discipline."
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