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Dodgeball: just like that, it's back to fourth-grade gym

National tryouts and tournament at UW's Duckworth Centre

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Patricipants face each other on the court, while others watch or take part in drills during the National Dodgeball Tryout and Tournament at the Duckworth Centre Friday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Patricipants face each other on the court, while others watch or take part in drills during the National Dodgeball Tryout and Tournament at the Duckworth Centre Friday.

Winnipegger Mike Garcia was caught in the grip of dodgeball fever seven years ago.

“I just had a friend from high school who said, ‘Hey, we need some athletic people to play and throw balls at people,’” says Garcia, a 32-year-old web graphics designer. “And it’s as fun as it sounds. It’s like walking into a time machine — going back to fourth-grade gym class — except you’re an adult.”

And if your main connection to the game is the one you may have played in a junior high phys-ed class or watched in the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, your reaction would probably be the same one Garcia often gets.

“When I tell people that I play dodgeball, they laugh immediately and I tell them to come out and watch,” Garcia says. “And some of them actually do and they’re surprised at how serious everything is. How everyone’s wearing kneepads, arm sleeves and compression tights. It’s like every other sport now. Everyone takes it so serious. They’re surprised there’s even a ref.”

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Winnipegger Mike Garcia was caught in the grip of dodgeball fever seven years ago.

"I just had a friend from high school who said, ‘Hey, we need some athletic people to play and throw balls at people,’" says Garcia, a 32-year-old web graphics designer. "And it’s as fun as it sounds. It’s like walking into a time machine — going back to fourth-grade gym class — except you’re an adult."

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mike Garcia competes in a match Friday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mike Garcia competes in a match Friday.

And if your main connection to the game is the one you may have played in a junior high phys-ed class or watched in the 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, your reaction would probably be the same one Garcia often gets.

"When I tell people that I play dodgeball, they laugh immediately and I tell them to come out and watch," Garcia says. "And some of them actually do and they’re surprised at how serious everything is. How everyone’s wearing kneepads, arm sleeves and compression tights. It’s like every other sport now. Everyone takes it so serious. They’re surprised there’s even a ref."

But dodgeball is certainly no joke, particularly for the approximately 300 men and women who convened Friday for the National Dodgeball Tryout and Tournament at the University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre.

Garcia, who will suit up for the Red River Rebellion team this weekend, says it’s about fun, but it’s also about impressing members of the national team selection committee, including head coach and general manager Victor Gravilli, who will be grading players for their possible inclusion on Canada’s men’s and women’s teams when they travel to the world championships in Los Angeles this fall.

For others, such as Winnipeg school teacher Amanda Furst, it’s mostly about the competition.

She has no national-team ambitions but loves the game, having played steadily since getting her competitive introduction to the game four years go. In that time, she’s witnessed a steady growth of the sport on a local level, which now consists of more than 1,000 players who play regularly in the Winnipeg Rec League and Dodgeball Winnipeg.

"I played Ultimate when it was newer and just gaining popularity and watched how that came about," says Furst, a phys-ed instructor at George McDowell School who also operates a non-profit organization that does community projects in east Africa. "I think, especially in Winnipeg, there’s a huge desire for sports and activities, maybe that’s because of the long, cold winters but people want to be involved in something. I’m not surprised how quickly it’s grown in popularity in Winnipeg."

The basic game is something she also passes on to her students.

"There’s a lot of different variations," says Furst, a member of the Prairie Fire squad competing at nationals. "The basic skills are there and that’s what people are familiar with but the elementary school game is a little bit different than the competitive game."

Dodgeball Canada president Duane Wysynski says one of the biggest challenges was to establish a standardized set of rules to be used at national and world competitions.

Canada, which has approximately 6,000 competitive players and up to another 25,000 who play in recreational leagues, hosted the fifth annual world championships in Toronto last year. On a global scale, Wysynski says there are up to 300,000 competitive players, including as many as 100,000 in Malaysia alone.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Amanda Furst plays a match at the Canadian national team dodgeball trials at the Duckworth Centre in Winnipeg on Friday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Amanda Furst plays a match at the Canadian national team dodgeball trials at the Duckworth Centre in Winnipeg on Friday.

That’s serious business, to be sure. But how serious? Wysynski seems to think the sky’s the limit.

"Sometimes when you tell people we’re going down that Olympic road, it’s met with a scoff," he says. "But the truth is with any sport that wants to establish itself, open itself up to funding, look at development opportunities for youth, for officiating, for coaching, you have to go on that path.

"For us, we have programs for coaching, we have programs for officiating, we have youth leagues, we do have high-performance programs and in our member federation is actively pursuing what it means to be recognized by the IOC."

Canada remains one of the sports heavyweights.

In 2016, Canadian men won gold and women earned silver at the worlds. In 2017, Canada’s men were beaten in the gold-medal match by Malaysia while the women were eliminated in the semifinals.

"We’ve made tremendous progress as a national sport organization," national team boss Gravilli says. "Would I love to see dodgeball in the Olympics? Absolutely. But I think our focus at Dodgeball Canada is to continue to evolve here nationally and find other elite competitions, like the Pan-Am Games."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

 

Read more by Mike Sawatzky .

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Updated on Friday, April 13, 2018 at 8:47 PM CDT: Adds photo

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