KAPA‘A — Mark Hatchell looks to his left as his friend is struck in the chest. To his right another takes a rocket to the shoulder. All around, his guys are dropping. The barrage of rubber whipping through the air has wiped out his whole team, and now he’s alone.
Hatchell quickly dodges forward, ducking as two shots whirl over his head, exploding into the back wall. Making it to half-court, Hatchell grabs two balls, one purple, the other green, and prepares to fire. He cocks his right arm back and uncoils, sending the green ball on a direct path towards an opponent’s knee. At impact it makes the sound of a large man’s belly meeting squarely with water.
Hatchell looks over at the clock with 15 seconds left in the round. Now it’s one on four. He figures he doesn’t have a chance. He moves back on the defensive. He high-steps a low shot and contours his body to avoid another. The lone remaining ball in his hand acts like a shield, fending off each shot that seeks his demise.
Five seconds left.
The opposing players prepare for one last throw. They gather the remaining balls and fire in rapid succession. Hatchell saves his best moves for last, jumping over one throw, catching another while corkscrewing away from the final shot. His isn’t quite able to will his team to victory, but Hatchell survives the opposing team’s attempt at shock and awe.
“You just got to stay back and try to duck or catch a ball,” Hatchell said of his one-on-five dodgeball performance. “You have to try to outlast them.”
Hatchell is just one of over 400 people across Kaua‘i that are spending time doing what they were taught to at a young age: throwing a round, melon-sized ball as hard as possible at the opposing person.
But unlike school gym class, where some of the participants may have been in the line of fire unwillingly, those at the All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Kapa‘a on Tuesday were there by choice.
About 60 players gathered in the church gym with various teams to practice for the 6th Annual Fun in Fellowship Dodgeball tournament, held July 28-30 at the church.
Tournament Director Sybil Nishioka said that the even has been so popular over the past several years that they’ve actually had to put a cap on the number of teams and participants.
“There’s a lot of kids out there that can’t wait until baseball season is over so they can start playing dodgeball,” Nishioka said. “It gets pretty intense out here.”
Next week’s tournament will have 10 different divisions and feature competitors ranging from four to 64 years old. The most competitive division, Nishioka said, is the 18 and over, closely followed by the 17 and under.
Hatchell’s Team Tamba looks like a favorite in the 17 and under category, although according to former Kapa‘a High football player Marshall Adkisson, team Thunderdome is the tournament powerhouse.
“We’re out to revenge our loss to the Ninja Skittles last year,” Adkisson said. “I’ve been training all year. This isn’t a sport. It’s a way of life.”
And the game isn’t just comprised of brute force. There is strategy. Team Tamba has two types of players: throwers and runners. At the whistle, when teams are lined up on opposing sides of the gym , the runners make a mad dash to center court where the dodgeballs await. Once they have the ball in hand, the runners toss them to the waiting throwers who then unleash havoc on the opposing team.
“That strategy works for awhile, but once people start getting out it’s a free-for-all,” Tamba’s Zavier Cummings, a runner, said. “Then I just try to catch it.”
The tournament is put on by a volunteer effort and is funded by grants from various businesses and groups from around the community.
The tournament, and all of the practice time, is a great way for locals to exercise, have fun and commune in a safe environment, Nishioka said.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” Nishioka said. “Really, it’s all about the kids.”