As the summer draws to a close, the softball players pack up the bases, stow away the cleats and store their bats for the winter. The bikers, joggers and rollerbladers reclaim the assorted parks taken from them two months earlier and get to enjoy them in silence for the coming autumn ... except for Tower Grove Park this year.
There's a new player on the scene, one that will continue to shatter the Sunday afternoon peace of the park as adults run around, acting like 10-year-olds, chasing each other with little red playground balls.
We're talking kickball, people, and if the St. Louis Kickball Association (SKA) has its way, adults will have the opportunity to relive their childhood once again.
Perhaps you're wondering about this new league; how (and why) does one start a kickball league? Doesn't this seem, well, juvenile? I wondered that myself, but after seeing the reactions of numerous people, including a co-worker who scared the hell out of me by screaming, "A kickball league! That's so cool!" I decided to look into it a little further. All my questions about this new venture were answered when I met with Ken Alldredge, the president of the St. Louis Kickball Association.
"The response we've had is amazing," Ken said. "People start out saying, 'You're kidding,' then they're asking when they can sign up." SKA's founders originally planned for eight teams to play the inaugural season, but demand caused them to increase the number of teams to 12.
SKA started last year when the executive committee including Ken, Lara Anderson (vice president), Michelle Alldredge (secretary and treasurer), and Christy Noonan (creative director and webmaster) played in an annual adult kickball tournament in Albers, Ill., over Labor Day Weekend. After playing in the tournament, they began talking about how much fun it would be to play again here. They floated the idea out to a few more friends and soon the league was formed.
St. Louis is not the first city to form an adult kickball league. The World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA) started three years ago in Washington, D.C., with a few teams and has grown to four divisions with a total of 1600 players. Ken contacted WAKA for advice and more information, but they actually wanted the local group to form a WAKA division in St. Louis, which wasn't part of the committee's vision.
"We didn't want to be a branch of another group. Part of our goal was to highlight St. Louis and bring more young adults into the city," said Ken.
The group faced many other challenges as the association moved from an idea to reality. Insurance, setting up the web page, setting up a phone and PO Box and incorporating were a few of the challenges they faced, but one of the largest was figuring out the day to play the games, since the biggest competition SKA faces is not a group of die-hard softball fanatics fighting to force them off the fields, but a group of die-hard Rams football fanatics.
"Having the games on Sunday alienated season ticket holders and those who wanted to watch the games. Picking the day was a big decision, but since this is going to be a fall league, Sunday afternoons were the best choice," said Ken. Many of their players would be unavailable to play in the early evenings, and as the days grow shorter, so does the available playing time.
While talking to others about the kickball league, many people mentioned other games they enjoyed as kids like Dodge Ball or Bombardment, so I asked about the possibility of sponsoring other sports. The SKA founders briefly thought about branching out to other sports, but the "liability insurance involved for a bunch of adults drinking and throwing balls at one another would be (astronomical)." Some other time, perhaps ...
To Ken, the ultimate goal of SKA is for people to have fun. "While playing, we're able to return to childhood no responsibilities for at least an hour. I can't think of anyone offhand who didn't enjoy kickball as a kid, unless, of course, they were no good or picked last." Given the smaller commitment both financially and time-wise than a softball team, SKA could grow very quickly.
Kickball costs a player between $5 and $9 to play that covers the whole season. This includes all the necessary equipment, the field fees, umpires and a keg party at the end of the season, making this an attractive alternative to the annual summer softball rituals: buying new softballs, digging out the battered glove and spending astronomical sums of money for a liquid-filled bat guaranteed to send any ball on an orbital trajectory provided you can hit it. (Let's not forget that this bat sits on the shelf for approximately eight months of the year, too).
If SKA grows large enough, Ken said they'll look to expand to other nights and St. Louis-area parks, but they don't want to look too far ahead.
Most of my questions were answered, except for one: where does someone find professional kickball umpires? Does such a creature actually exist? Not exactly.
"We contacted the American Softball Association for umpires. I spoke to a gentleman in his 50s who became really excited about the league. He sounded like a kid and asked to be included," answers Ken. In addition to the softball umpires, committee members will also serve as umpires for the first season.
With ten teams formed and two on the way, SKA will have a full roster for its first season, but there's still work to be done before league play starts. "I had my first kickball dream the other night," said Ken.
As summer winds down and the softball players bring in the bases for the final time, the joggers, bikers, rollerbladers and dog walkers will have to wait a little longer before reclaiming the fields at Tower Grove Park. SKA has arrived, and it looks like it's here to stay.
For more information on SKA, call 865-2783 or send an e-mail to email@example.com. SKA's web address is www.skarocks.org. The kickball season starts September 9 on Sunday afternoons and lasts for seven weeks.
Brian McCown is a technical writer for GEMS, a Clayton-based software company.