Monday, October 8, 2012

The First Time I . . . Played in the Dodgeball World Championship in Las Vegas

Part of being a competitive dodgeball player means that you get asked the same questions, again and again.

"Dodgeball? Like from recess? Oh my god, people still play that?" Yup. And no, it's not like you remember it.

"Dodgeball? Like the movie? Hey, if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball, right?" This is usually met with a weak smile and thoughts of murder. Yes, a head injury for sure, but just HOW is the question . . . 

"Is your volleyball team doing well this season?" This one is usually answered by, "Yes, Mom. Volleyball is great." Sigh . . . 

You quickly get used to all of these things. It's part of playing dodgeball. It comes with the territory, like having fifty t-shirts from all of the teams you've played on and a shoulder/ankle/miscellaneous body part that constantly hurts.

But there's more than all of that to being a serious dodgeball player. There are two (2) things that a dodgeball player will usually accumulate during his or her dodging career:

1.) a trading card

(done and done, thank you graphic designer roommate Heather)

2.) a trip to Las Vegas to play in the National Dodgeball League's Dodgeball World Championship.

This event is the one time when you can actually reply, "Yes, pretty much just like the movie." Teams from all over the world flock to Vegas to compete in three (3) days of extremely intense dodgeball. It is fierce and it is frightening and for some, it is costumed.

This year, quite a few teams from Toronto decided it was time for us to compete in Vegas. With a group of twenty, including most of the members of my competitive team, the Devil Bats, we booked our flights, packed our new jerseys, quit our jobs and said goodbye to our friends and family forever and headed to Las Vegas on August 8th, 2012.

(Once I realized that not everyone else quit their jobs and said goodbye to their friends and families forever and I had indeed misinterpreted the purpose of the trip, a few awkward phone calls had to be made. That's Vegas, baby.)

One middle-seat plane ride later, we have officially landed on Vegas soil. Even the Vegas airports are more excitingtheir baggage carousels move!

The Toronto teams were there for one purpose and one purpose only: to make our country proud. To bring glory to our vast and barren land. Toronto would not be shamed with a blood doping scandal, NO SIR, NOT THIS TIME.  Therefore, our teams stuck to a strict regiment of early morning jogs/sprinting intervals, prolonged bouts of meditative breathing and enforced bedtimes of 8:00 p.m. Daily urine samples were to be collected and placed outside the hotel door of our fiercest competitor, Jeff Snow.

Pardon me, I meant Jeff "Thumbs Up" Snow.

And so, despite the temptation of booze, debauchery and so many hookers, our strict regiment began.

Team Toronto: Determination, Strength, Aspirin & Gatorade

(And again, why was I the only one who complied with the daily urine samples? COME ON, guys. Have you no respect for standard protocol?)

Okay, so it turned out that we all had slightly different goals. Several people were in it to win it. Trained for months beforehand, researched the unfamiliar rules, developed complex strategies. Others were in it to gamble away their hard-earned money and consume record-breaking amounts of alcohol. My personal goals were to a.) not embarrass myself on an international level in the dodgeball world, b.) not re-injure my recently sprained foot, c.) not be kidnapped and placed into a human trafficking ring (I've seen the movies; don't tell me it doesn't happen!) and d.) perhaps see the Grand Canyon.

The tournament began with the women's portion, with the Women's Foam Ball and Rubber Ball divisions both taking place on August 9th. 

Ladies lined up from all over the world to register (well, mostly 8 or so teams from the States and our 2 teams from Toronto, but from such exotic lands as Chicago and Los Angeles as well). 

The foam ball division was first. Dodgeball is played primarily with either foam balls (think this) or with rubber balls (like what you probably played with in grade school). In Toronto, we use almost exclusively foam balls. In much of the States and other parts of the world, rubber is more widely used. In foam ball competitions, I can hold my own. When using rubber balls, I'm the one that people on the sidelines point to and say, "Oh, that poor dear . . . well, good for her for trying."  

She's running around in circles again; somebody better get the prod. 

So yes, the Toronto gals, the Little Giants and the Femme-Bots, were pleased to start with foam. My team, the Little Giants, received a fun surprise minutes before our first game when we learned that one of our players wasn't actually registered and therefore would not be playing with us. Such surprises are wonderful tests of character and provide precious opportunities to see what people are truly made of. 

The Little Giants mostly stared at each other while saying, "Well, shit . . . " repeatedly. We were lucky enough to pick up a last minute sub, a lovely gal from Memphis named Cindy. When we asked Cindy if she had ever played with foam dodgeballs before, she replied, "Um, maybe once or twice?" 

Emma Stone Thumbs Up Pictures, Images and Photos


Bolstered by Cindy's confidence, the Little Giants began our first game. Which we narrowly tied. And then we played our next game, which also ended in an almost-losing tie. We tied each of our four round-robin games. 

"Hey, we haven't lost any games yet, right?" we reassured each other. Nope, but we sure hadn't won any. 

So we decided enough of this tying business. It was time to get real for the playoffs. It was time to step it up. TO THE STREETS.

(This is when "The Final Countdown" began playing inside my head on a non-stop loop. It remains there until this day.)

Oh, we're heading for Venus
But still we stand tall
blah blah blah blah blah
something something something
...with so many light years to go 
And things to be found (to be found)
blah blah blah blah blah something blah



(very becoming action shots courtesy of the NDL and Victor Bernard Photography)

And slowly we began to win. We fought our way through the rest of playoffs, where, wouldn't you know, we found out we would be facing our dear friends the Femme-Bots for first place. This was bittersweet news to us.

You know, a lot of people truly enjoy playing against their friends in competitions. They like to laugh with familiar faces during games and have some inside knowledge of playing styles and strategies. That makes sense. Howeverthat ain't me. Playing against my friends in fun charity tournaments, sure, okay, yes; intense Dodgeball World Championship, no, please, no. When it counts, give me strangers any day. I'm not your Braveheart, your Steve Nash, your Bates Battaglia, your Kobe competitive what-have-you. I don't want to get my friends out. I don't want them to get me out. I'm too sensitive. I see an overweight dog on the street and feel like my heart is breaking. 

 oh god I can't.

(Fat cats, however, are a completely different story. Bring it on.)

. . . What were we talking about? Cat costumes? Oh right. Reluctantly facing your friends in the final game to win a gold medal in Vegas. 

So the Little Giants squared off against the Femme-Bots to duke it out for gold and silver. It was tough. It wasn't fun. Competitive sides emerge and sometimes they're not pretty. Things get personal. In fact, it's pretty hard not to get personal when you're heaving balls at each other's bodies as hard as you can. The final game came down to a one-on-one match, with both teams holding their breath to see what would happen. And guess who won it for us? Freakin' Cindy "Played Foam Once or Twice, Maybe" from Memphis. Funny how things turn out sometimes.  

And that is how the Little Giants became Dodgeball World Champions. 

Little Giants: Velvet, Shauna, Michelle, me and Heather

We can certainly understand how the Fantastic Five feel now.

Not pictured: the elusive Cindy. We actually got no pictures with Cindy, leading me to believe she was never really there at all . . . 

But we had nary a moment to savor our gold, for the Women's Rubber Ball competition began right away. The Little Giants, feeling high and reckless after our win, played like never before. We ran around the court like flea-infested felines. We laughed maniacally and without reason. The maniacal laughter would often lead to tears. Many of them. We pranced, we reminisced, we dodged on occasion. All of this is to say that we played quite poorly and were eliminated as fast as a team could be. 

But they can never take away our gold(ish) medals. NEVER. Can they? They actually might be able to. Not sure. Should look into this.


From my cold, iron-deficient hands, Sir Dodgeball Commissioner . . . 

To make up for our embarrassing display, the glorious Femme-Bots rubber-balled their way to win their second silver medal for Toronto.

Femme-Bots: Pauline, Chelsey, Beth, Sabrina, Rowena and Jen

All in all, it was a pretty great day for Toronto women's dodgeball. 

After the ladies' portion was done, we returned to the Flamingo Hotel as new people. We had a spring in our step and a soundtrack of jangling medals and a creepily hummed version of "The Final Countdown." Had the hotel staff known us before, they surely would have made a comment like, "Oh my! Who are these new, sexy women and why are they sweating so much?" But no one knew us. So all they said was, "You lost your room keys already? Both of them?" To which we replied, "Yes, but medals."


StarTrek Birthday Dance Pictures, Images and Photos

(My knowledge of Vegas was very limited prior to this trip.)

It was sometime after donning our party hats and belly chains that we discovered a tragic flaw in the whole Vegas-dodgeball plan. You see, after playing dodgeball all day long, you're covered in sweat, blood, manure. You're tired and sore. Your bones ache. Mentally, you're partying, physically, you're toast, man. Sore, soggy toast. 

Or at least we were. I think other teams went out to party. I wonder what it's like to not be an old biddy? Frightening, I would imagine. 

So instead of partying, we hung out in our hotel room and took pictures with the medals. 

We did this for roughly three (3) hours and then I think we all ate dinner from the hotel lobby and went to bed. 

That's Vegas, baby. Is it not?

It was a good thing that we got those twelve (12) hours of sleep, because the next day was big. HUGE. We were onto the major part of the tournament, the coed team competitions. It was time for the Devil Bats to soar. And for all of our other Toronto teams to soar, too, but mostly the Devil Bats.


We were psyched. Ready to strut in our brand new jerseys (cotton-poly blend!). We said things like "Let's do this!" and "Devil Bats Unite!" and "I forgot my left shoe" repeatedly.  And so, with those inspiring words, the tournament began . . . 

"Omg," you say. "HOW DID IT GO?" And to be honest, I'm a little hazy on the details. All I remember is the profound disappointment. For you see, the Devil Bats were slaughtered. We were sent (back?) to hell. I've never seen us destroyed so fast and so hard and so many times in a row.  

These teams that we faced . . . good lord. They were very different from what we were used to. The Devil Bats are a strategic, ball-controlling team. You might call us slow-paced. It was like we were Russian chess players and they threw us onto a court with UFC fighters and hollered, "3, 2, 1, Dodgeball!" And the UFC fighters had been taking uppers. For six months. Games were incredibly fast-paced and scarily aggressive. The strategic and analytical Devil Bats didn't stand a chance. 

It seemed like this was the average player that we faced:

. . . and this was us:

"I shall counter-attack and aim low and at precisely the right moment, I'll . . . pardon? I've been out for an entire minute? I see. Thank you for your time."

"Hey girls, let's throw together on the count of 3, okay? 1, 2 . . . oh, we're all out again? And the game's over? Makes sense."

(source for above 7 action shots: Victor Bernard Photography)

Most, if not all, of our coed games were played in a best 2 out of 3 format. In one game, I think I was on the court for a total of three seconds before getting out. On my way to the bench, I noticed that half of my teammates were already sitting there. Before I could double-check to make sure that had indeed just happened, the game was over and we had lost. Repeat that by 20 and you have our big day. 

Was it inspiring and motivating to face such talented teams? Yes. In a way. In many other more immediate ways, it was depressing and a bit rage-inducing. 

Look at us soar! That bench never saw us coming. 

All of our Toronto coed teams fared pretty much the same: disappointment, heartbreak, headshots, sorrow. 

Sure, our hearts are filled with sadness, but check out those sick jerseys! Cotton-poly blend!

I believe the Femme-Bots coed version did the best out of all of the Toronto coed teams, making all of us female dodgeballers proud.

Team Schwwwing . . . whatever that means. 

And here's the whole lot of us from Toronto:


But before I move away from the subject of dodgeball, I'd like to share with you something that I'm very proud of. Even after being swiftly and summarily eliminated, I knew I would want to remember these moments forever. With my trusty camera, (the ol' Hazemaster 3000), I set out to diligently capture the action on the courts. Behold, my personal gallery of the 2012 Dodgeball World Championship:

I only ask that if you wish to use one of my personal shots, please give me proper credit. Appreciate it, guys.

After losing so, so badly at oh, all of our games, the bad news was that we had no self-esteem to speak of. The good news was that we were finally free to enjoy the sights and sounds of the fabulous Las Vegas. Yay!

The sights . . .

The sounds . . .

(Vegas clubs are wild, man; they're everything you imagine and more!)

. . .  And yes, the smells. 

I realize that it may appear that the trip has taken a turn for the dismal, what with all the slaughtering and the self-esteem shrinking. But it's not so! There were many highlights. Oh yes, so many highlights. Where does a girl even begin? WHERE, JULIE, WHERE?

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start . . .

-Well, we got gussied up to attend a banquet for all of the dodgeball participants. I have mixed emotions about this, actually, because I had prepared a lovely, 45 minute speech/monologue that I was informed "there was no time or need for." Still not sure what they meant by that. It was so freakin' poignant I would have had 'em all weeping. But there was some free food, at least. 

(Note: no, that is not a bizarrely large necklace; Velvet is indeed wearing her medal out in public. Yes, she was the only one who did this. The rest of us just wore them in the hotel room like normal people. Another note for all you medal-wearing folk out there, don't wear your medals in the shower. The gold will come off.)

-We got to eat a very large cake. 

I love cake and all of the occasions that call for it, so this, this post-dodgeball-humiliation-lick-your-wounds-with-marzipan-cake . . . this was something special. Definitely a highlight. 

-We did actually manage to leave our hotel rooms once or twice for various excursions and (certainly non-drinking related) activities. 

Now, I know what you're saying. That's great that you had a swell time and all, and some of your friends look kind of drunk, but WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE? 

Yes, yes. Calm yourself. I know you all are an intelligent crowd and come here seeking knowledge and enlightenment. As such:


-Watching other people gamble is not as much fun as you think it will be. 

I pictured our gang crowded around a long, green fabric table. An excited buzz palpable in the smoky air. The dice are tossed. They land on some kind of number or square and we all erupt in cheers. Arms thrown high into the air in sheer glee. Someone kisses a stranger. Then we all sing a happy song together, hopefully one having multiple rounds because those are more fun. Then my friends give me all of their winnings to hold for safekeeping, because I give off a very responsible vibe. I tell my friends I'm going to the washroom. I take the money. All of it. I leave the country. First I see the Grand Canyon, but then I get right out of there. I book it to Salzburg. Make a home for myself. Do the whole nun-turned-governess-turned-wife routine and end up very happy and also a great singer.

Well. You know how they say that your dreams come true? The thing is that THEY DON'T. 

Not this: 

But this:

How do you talk to someone you love about a gambling problem? Don't ask me. The non-gamblers all thought about it and then promptly fell asleep at the slots waiting for our crap-happy friends to finish. 

My gambling friends did end up being very successful at the tables, which is great for them, I guess.  I don't know. Gambling is serious business, it seems. It changes people. Why, I can still hear the sounds of "you're bad luck, I lose every time you come around, you smell terrible, why are you still wearing your dodgeball clothes from yesterday, stop giving me your urine samples, who keeps humming "The Final Countdown," blah blah blah . . . " like they were just yesterday. But yeah. Truly happy for their good fortune. 

Another important thing to note is that people like to tell you that you drink for free in casinos. This is partially true. If you are actively gambling and spending money, you will drink for free. You do not drink for free if you are hovering awkwardly behind your friends as they spend money and gamble. In fact, you do not even exist to servers if you are a gambling table tag-along. 

Even if you are wearing a gold medal.  

Even if you remind them that you are wearing a gold medal. 

I've said it before: do not come to Vegas to improve your self-esteem. Lesson learned.

-If you enjoy anything, anything at all, there is a slot machine that is made especially for you. 

If you'd give it all up for just one more Maltese:

(This is a large portion of you, I suspect.)

If you unapologetically want your cats and god dammit, you want your glitter, too:



And for everyone else, there is Whale Song:

(Note: despite the aforementioned plethora of slot options, I did not find a Sweet Valley High-themed slot machine. Therefore, my gambling strike continues.)

-Everything is insane in Vegas.

Chips Ahoy plus Reese's? Peanut butter Oreos? TRIPLE DOUBLE OREOS? What does that even mean? I'm still in the phase where I'm excited by Golden Oreos, so this was just . . . incomprehensible. Distressing, almost.

They also have like pizzas and burgers and stuff. This place is nuts. I clearly cannot handle Las Vegas. We had to get out of this strange place where if you can dream it, it already exists in cookie form. 

We left Las Vegas with our medals, sweat-soaked jerseys and I think without being abducted into a human trafficking ring, although I haven't seen Velvet in awhile. Some of us left thinking of all the wonderful friends we had made.  

I left wishing I had bought those Triple Double Oreos. U.S. friends, can someone mail me some, please? AND THESE.

Please please it's very important. Will pay for shipping!


Would I return to the World Dodgeball Championship? I'm actually not sure. While I had fun, there were many things I wish were different. The National Dodgeball League is a heated topic amongst hardcore dodgeballers for many reasons, most of which I don't really care about. However, I feel like there are a few seemingly simple things that could be changed to improve the event.

-More variety in game scheduling

For the majority of our coed games, the Devil Bats were in a bracket with the same 3 teams. That meant we played the same teams, over and over again. It was frustratingwe were in a tournament with teams from all over the world and only got a chance to face the same few. I very much wanted the chance to play against some new faces, even just for fun. Faces like:

Team First Blood (from possibly B.C.? Not sure, probably somewhere cool and fancy-free. Maybe Newark. Just look at them!)

(team photo source)

These guys from Australiasuch energy and pizazz and other fun words, too!

-Greater consistency with the reffing 

The rules seemed to change not only from court to court, but from game to game. Large amounts of time were spent arguing over calls or the rules, which ultimately just led to frustrated players. In one of our women's rubber games, a player was blatantly hit by a deflection off a teammate and didn't walk off. When we asked the ref why, he helpfully explained, "Oh, she didn't know that rule" and the game continued on. The back line refs also chatted with us throughout the majority of the games, asking such important, time-sensitive and relevant questions as, "So, what hotel are you staying at?" "You guys gonna be at that pool party thing later on?" All of this DURING the games. Good lord.

And do you even need to ask, HELL YEAH we're going to that pool party thing later. Just look at us.

-Location change from the whole Las Vegas thing

Vegas is a strange place. It's a place where one (1) visit can probably hold you for the rest of your life. Yes, it's a place of excess, of the unnecessary, of a carpe diem this next spin will be the big one mindset. It's a place where men hand you escort cards with half-naked ladies on them as you walk outside to breakfast. It's bachelorette parties and drinking on the streets and blackjack at 3:00 a.m. But it's also a bit depressing. Everyone looks kind of sad and sallow in that early-morning casino glow. Or maybe that was just me because I didn''t gamble and I prefer my cage dancers to look whimsical and like they're there by choice, instead of weary and blasé. 

So here is what I propose: move the World Dodgeball Championship to Italy. Or Greece. Or Maine. I've always wanted to go to Maine. 

Can you even imagine?! Lighthouse tours, lobster fishing, the scent of salt water, a little coed foam ball competitions, perhaps held in the great outdoors . . . just promise me you'll think about it before saying no. 

See? Easy solutions to complex problems. I've got this whole thing figured out. I'm now an Olympic gold medalist, after all, according to my resume. 

*Note to photographers: in need of updated headshots/business cards with new medal. Contact me to schedule session. Will give copy of book or one (1) box of Great Grains as payment. 

Medal-less headshot, no longer relevant. 

And that, my friends and immediate family, is the first time I ever played in the NDL's Dodgeball World Championship in Las Vegas. Now, have any of you ever been to Vegas? Did you love it or list it? Would you return? Dodgeballers, do you hope to play in the Dodgeball World Championship one day? WILL ANYONE GO TO THE GRAND CANYON WITH ME? (I'm so sad that I didn't make it there.) Most importantly, what's the status on those Oreos, hmm? Is there a tracking number? 

As always, I'd love to hear from all (/any) of you. 

But do hurry. Because IT'S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. 

(Thanks to Pauline, the NDL/Victor Bernard Photography and the Ol' Hazemaster 3000 for many of these pictures.)


  1. I'm fine, BTW. I had to pay for my own stretch hummer airport limo after you all left me behind. You forgot about the unrefreshing, lukewarm oily swimming pool but I think you've captured the rest of the trip concisely. I had the song "Viva Las Vegas" in my head the entire trip, which was annoying to myself and everyone around me. And now again. Thanks!

    1. Oh good! I was wondering where you were. Should I stop sleeping in your room now? And using your credit card? Just lemme know when it gets weird. I had your limit upped to $100,000.00 by the way. Needed more space.

      That pool was disgusting, as were most of the scarily-tan people in it. And can you BELIEVE that we got kicked out of the special VIP couch area?! It's a freakin' shame how poorly professional athletes are treated in our day and age.

      Viva Las Vegasssss!

  2. Thanks for illustrating the difference between rubber and foam balls.. and for that picture with the child, perfect example. And if they consider your proposal and have the dodgeball championships in maine or Greece I would definitely sign up for the spirit squad and make sure your team(s) wins (even if it's just mostly in spirit).

    1. Oh, no problem at all. I was also going to explain the difference between an athletic shoe and a non-athletic shoe but felt I had already been rambling on for an hour. People can always email me if they have questions about such things.

      So far I haven't heard anything from the NDL re: venue change, but these things take time. And often letter writing campaigns. I would love to have the entire county of Greece backing me on this cause. Or at least the President. I'm happy to know you're on board, Z. Maybe start the first batch of letters this week?

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