Center City: Hit People With Balls and Make Friends

A player on the Navy Team sets up for an intense throw.

Every Thursday night, the 12th Street Gym’s intimate basketball court is overrun by young professionals – but not for business. Instead they’re busy playing dodge ball in a competitive league run through the Philadelphia Sports Network.

They are all sponsored by the Irish Pub. Many players meet up there after games to take advantage of the drink specials offered to them through the league.

“Even though they hate each other all season, I’ve noticed that at the end they all become friends,” said bartender Kellie Todd.  “You make a lot of friends through this.”

Todd recently took the night off and partook in her first experience on the court when she filled in for an absent team member.

“It’s intense but it’s fun,” Todd said. “I wanted to be out there the entire time.”

Patrick Betoney, a two-year veteran of the league, was Todd’s teammate for the night. For him, the rivalries end once you leave the gym.

“We’ve been playing against the same teams for two years,” Betoney said.  “People don’t leave here. We always hang out with people at the bar, so its definitely a social thing.”

Brendon Thuer delivers a striking blow to an opposing  team member.
Brendon Thuer delivers a striking blow to an opposing team member.

Betoney’s team formed when the group was looking for a new way to meet people in the city and have fun while doing it.

“A bunch of us lived outside the city and we were looking to make friends inside Center City,” Betoney’s teammate Paul Bressler, said. “This seemed like a good way to hang out after games, make friends and get to know people.”

Making the games right in the middle of Philadelphia makes the commute much easier for many. Players can take the train or subway into Center City and walk a few blocks to the gym.

“It’s just really convenient,” Amy Crowe said. “There are a lot of other gyms they’ve had us play at outside of Center City that are hard to get to if you don’t have a car.”

Many of the teams joined the league as a way to meet new people or to do something exciting with a group of friends.

Patrick McNeil found the league online and instantly knew he wanted to join.

“I roped up a bunch of friends who had no interest in playing dodge ball and said, ‘Lets play dodge ball!’” McNeil said. “All of them immediately grasped the vast importance and enthusiasm that I feel when I play dodge ball.”

Andrew Burke just joined the league this season after previously playing in a different city league. After his first game, it was clear he really enjoyed his time.

“It strikes a really good balance,” Burke said. “It is intense. People actually care about playing and people want to actually win. At the same time, when you’re called out, you’re out. People aren’t screaming and getting mad at each other.”

Amey Owen, another first-timer in the league, really enjoyed the competitive spirit that she felt while playing alongside her roommates. It was a bit different than when she played as a child.

“My roommates are really competitive so I try to be as competitive as possible,” Owen said. “I think it’s contagious.”

Burke was also able to easily mix with the opposing team after the game and found no trouble in playing along side them once their match was over.

“We were joking around and playing scrimmage with the other team after we finished the best-of-13 [match],” Burke said.

This is common for teams to mix up the sides after the official match is over and to have some stress free fun. Often times, the referees will get involved in playing a few scrimmage matches with the competitors whom they had just overseen.

The Grey Team awaits their opponents attack.
The Grey Team awaits their opponents attack.

It is a league where you don’t have to worry about how well you play dodge ball. It’s more about just having fun and meeting people.

“I just moved from Boston eight months ago and this is just a way for me to meet new people,” Owen said. “I joined with my roommates so this is a fun way to socialize. I’m not very good at dodge ball but I try. It’s only my first day but I already met a few new people.”

Dodge ball through PSN is an experience that hooks players in after their very first time.

“I would come back if I didn’t work Thursdays and hangout with these people at the bar,” Todd said.

– Text, images and video by John Iatesta and Samantha Kordelski.

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