Pop culture tells us that gym class can be a terrifying experience: Getting picked last for kickball, losing your pants on the climbing rope, or sustaining a black eye (or bruised ego) in a dodgeball game is pretty damaging to a young psyche.
But all those years of school-mandated exercise can't have messed us up too badly because around 12,000 Bostonians are -- willingly -- unleashing their inner jock with Social Boston Sports. Essentially an intramural league for adults, SBS offers weekly games of everything from schoolyard staples like flag football and basketball to the more out-of-the-ordinary broomball and inner tube water polo. They even have over 350 people playing dodgeball -- now also in 3D! -- every week.
"You can easily get out of balance, so we try to put that balance in, get the ball rolling, and help people have fun," said Justin Obey, SBS's co-founder and CEO. "[We wanted to] offer those fun, recreational sports leagues that no one's played since middle school or elementary school."
Obey, a 27-year-old Boston native and Bentley College grad, founded SBS in January 2007 with three friends. "In college...it's so easy to meet new people -- sports leagues, parties, intramurals, different clubs," he said. "[Once you graduate,] there's not much out there." SBS aims to fill that void by "provid[ing] young professionals with the opportunity to live life to the fullest by staying active through sports leagues, social events, and weekend adventure trips...[and] hang out with/meet new friends and old, all while having as much fun as possible," according to their website.
While SBS markets itself to 21-35-year-olds, about 96 percent of its members are 21-29 years old, Obey said. "One of the reasons why we don't have an annual fee is to make it available to the person who just graduated college," he said. "We make it a point to keep our league fees pretty low, without an annual fee on top of that."
SBS began as a side project for its founders, and many of the original players were their friends, but by March 2008, the organization had amassed about 1,500 members. "It was getting to the point where we had to scale it back or go full-time," Obey said, so he quit his job at a commercial real estate bank and devoted himself fully to SBS.
Today, a four-person team of Obey, commissioner Matt Rubin, community manager Mike Springer, and event and travel coordinator Crystal Hammond organize and run four seasons of sports leagues, as well as ski weekends, adventure trips, and plenty of parties, with some help from referees and an events team. Even those who aren't currently playing or have never played an SBS sport are welcome at all events and can sign up for SBS's newsletter to stay up to date.
"It can be hard to meet new friends on your own, and I've heard a lot of people say, 'Thank you. Because of [SBS], now I have friends I hang out with all the time,'" said Obey. "Your social circle and social calendar fill up pretty quickly."
Natasha Walth, 23, moved to Boston last January and "didn't know a single person up here," she said via email. She joined SBS as a referee and now plays dodgeball and basketball in addition to reffing dodgeball, volleyball, inner tube water polo, kickball, and cornhole.
"I count the people that I have met through SBS as my closest friends," she said. "We all go out after the games together, and you can always find us together on the weekends."
Obey called SBS "a strainer" that brings together some of the coolest, most fun-loving people in the city. "Only a certain personality type is willing to put themselves out there and play inner tube water polo," he said.
For those just looking for a little fun at the end of a long day, SBS is also "an escape from reality," Obey said. "Your day-to-day is so stressful, and when you come to one of our leagues, you don't have to worry about anything."
Jamie Francese, 24, joined SBS in Spring 2009 when a bunch of friends who had played dodgeball the season before needed more people to round out their team. "I decided to do it because I need to keep myself busy; I hate sitting around," he said via email. He's also played flag football with SBS and sometimes subs for soccer and basketball teams.
"SBS is a gigantic stress reliever. I would hate going home to a TV every day and doing absolutely nothing," Francese said. "Every time a season ends, the 2-4-week gap until it starts drives me crazy."
And while Francese was part of a team that won the 2011 Massachusetts State Dodgeball Championships' Co-ed Division title, he stressed that SBS leagues are focused on fun.
"As competitive as it can get, in the end, we're all there to have a good time," he said. "Justin, Matt, Mike, and Crystal go all out to make sure it's not about the competition -- it's about everyone getting along and having a great time."
About Angela -- It's "Ang," if you please -- or, alternately, Bill, Penny Lane, or (begrudgingly) Angus to some. I've been with TNGG since the site started and am now the TNGG Boston editor for Boston.com. I graduated from Boston University's College of Communication in 2009 and am a huge fan of live music, hockey, and Thai food. I'm also a bit of a klutz, but that's only because my mind and body are always going in approximately a zillion separate directions. Twitter: @amstefano988
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