New trend - 'Lame game' leagues becoming popular

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

SEATTLE -- In the 1990s, adults "grinded" on inline skates and "shredded" on snowboards. They were extreme.

These days, many are kicking red, rubber balls, swinging plastic bats and jumping rope just like ... well, kids.

Move over extreme games. Wiffle ball, kickball, dodgeball, even jump rope are becoming increasingly popular with adults.

Darby O'Brien calls them "lame games." The Massachusetts advertising executive predicted they would be the next trend in adult recreation after the extreme games craze. He should know; he predicted that trend, too.

Lame games, he said, are providing a simple, much needed break from complicated lives.

Angus Durocher of San Francisco started a kickball league of primarily dot-com workers almost two years ago. Before the industry's bust, the league had about 20 teams playing on a weekly schedule.

"We were all working 80-hour weeks," Durocher said. "It was an exciting time, but we were definitely all spending way too much time at our computers."

Kickball, he said, gives his players simplicity in their changing business.

"It was just something fun and stupid to do," he said. "And it doesn't technically require you to put your beer down when you're in the outfield."

For many, participating in "lame games" is the last chance to be competitive. Maybe they've lost some speed, or maybe they haven't played organized sports since high school and are out of shape.

In Wiffle ball, experienced athletes can be outplayed by couch potatoes. The game is played with a plastic ball designed to twist and curve.

There's no running, so players don't need speed, and no deep center fields, so the weakest player can hit home runs. And Wiffle balls can't be thrown as fastballs, so there's no need for arm strength.

"We realize it's not baseball," said Jeff Delma, commissioner of the Washington State Wiffleball Association. "It's Wiffle ball, a stupid, plastic ball. Games are real competitive, but it's so ridiculous."

For Delma, that's the true beauty of sports like Wiffle ball. There's a perfect balance of competition and silliness, seriousness and laughter.

"We want to win," he said, "but we're going to bring a big cooler with us and a lot of grilled meat."

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