Baumgartner Vaughan: Whack! Dodgeball at ATC

Aug. 09, 2014 @ 04:47 PM

It was everything I hoped it would be. Last week, I told you about the resurgence of the classic children’s game of dodgeball. The YMCA at American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham has been holding a summer dodgeball tournament in the Cage, that fenced in area near the parked train car in the center of the complex. Friday morning, I witnessed the glory that is hitting your colleagues with balls for fun.

Around 11 a.m., I walked past ATC workers and early lunchers toward the Cage. It was quiet and cloudy. Then I thought I heard something as I walked up the hill through the repurposed tobacco factory that looks cooler every time I see it. I did hear something -- the sound of fun. There had better not be shin guards or elbow pads, I thought. Better not be foam balls, I thought. There weren’t.
Instead I arrived to that sound you can’t quite spell – the whack of a small kickball-type of ball when it makes contact. Inside the Cage were men and women – mostly men, but plenty of women – wearing T-shirts and shorts and raring to go. I saw a lot of Duke T-shirts, and even a Batman T-shirt. The players looked about my age (30-something) and younger.
I watched from the outside of the building, looking through the windows that have no glass. Passers-by also checked out the game. I looked down at my notebook and thought, hmm, a ball could come through the window. A moment later, a pink ball sailed above, thwacking the window frame. I held my arm up, but it bounced back into the room. Lesson for dodgeball spectators: heads-up. Later, a ball did escape the window and roll down the sidewalk. I trotted after it and gently bounced it back into the Cage, though I actually wanted to heave it.
Back to the game: “Three minutes on the clock. If you get hit, you’re out – out out,” said announcer Josephe Featherstone, whose YMCA title is “relationship builder.”
I watched a man get smacked in the head with a ball. He took it like a champ and moved to the side, because he was out. If you get hit, you’re out. If you catch a ball, someone from your team gets to go back in. Eventually there were just a few on each side, taking their time scoping out their opponents before chucking the ball for that satisfying whack.
At the end of the court, behind a net, I caught up with a team who had just played a round, The Dodgefathers. Nick Lively said their team was composed of co-workers at AlphaMed Press and friends. AlphaMed is at ATC.
“It’s a Friday, it’s good to get away from work, have a stress reliever,” Lively said. “It’s right before lunch, so we can go to lunch after. It’s fun.”
There are some tough players out there, though, he said. “A lot of people get into it.”
Featherstone told me this is the second summer of the YMCA dodgeball tourney, and participation has been great.
The main objective, he said, is for those who work at companies at American Tobacco Campus “to add some play to your day.” Immediately after he said that, Featherstone called out that sports announcer “ooohhhh” they make when someone gets nailed with a ball. I was on the other side of the windows then, potentially in the line of fire. I kept my head up.
Featherstone remembers playing dodgeball as a kid, too.
“It was great,” he said. “This is another fun way to bring the kid back into our lives.”
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.