"I always follow what goes on in Seattle," Robert Lynch says. "Before we try anything, we pay attention to what Seattle's doing. I want to know what works and why it works."
No, Lynch isn't the manager of a coffeehouse or a tattoo parlor, searching for the tastiest lattes or hippest piercings. He's the head of the Bud Sports recreational programs, and he's after anything that will make St. Louis twentysomethings break a sweat and pay for the privilege. The latest Seattle export to hit Bud Sports' league calendar? Adult dodgeball.
According to Lynch, adult dodgeball is already a hit, even though the first ball has yet to be thrown. "The response has been tremendous," he says. "We've got 26 teams right now, and we're still getting calls. Coed is the most popular, but we've got men's teams too."
Does the recent Ben Stiller movie have something to do with dodgeball's newfound hipness? "Absolutely, but I think the movie actually came out of the leagues in Seattle," Lynch says. More to the point, he adds, is the fact that younger adults today yearn for simpler, more active days, away from Web servers and 401(k) plans and instant messaging. This impulse has made kickball "the fastest-growing sport in California," according to Lynch. He's betting that the success Bud Sports has had with kickball will repeat itself with dodgeball, another sport more common to playgrounds than stadiums. "When you talk to people about dodgeball, the first reaction is a smile on their face. You can see that distant look in their eyes, that nostalgia. Dodgeball brings up memories, both good and bad, but either way they want to revisit those memories."
But washed-up bullies seeking a return to their glory days -- or one-time nerds out for some adult revenge -- won't be able to indulge their bloodlust with ersatz decapitations. This isn't necessarily the riotous, chaotic bombardment you may have known in grade school. Rule number one: No head shots! Intentionally throwing at an opponent's head could lead to banishment from the league. If you're under incoming fire, you can catch the ball cleanly and turn the hunter into your prey. If you happen to be holding a ball yourself, you can parry opponents' shots harmlessly away, but if you lose your own ball while doing so, you're out. The ball is familiar but slightly different: a little softer and smaller than you may remember.
The athletic competition itself is only part of the attraction. Again, as with kickball, dodgeball provides a low-anxiety venue for showing off one's physical and social charms to eligible fellow singles. "You say you can't meet people?" Lynch says. "I tell everybody: Join a coed sports league. Play dodgeball, and you've automatically got five friends right there on your team."