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Kickball movement finding some legs, too

Kickball, another time-tested playground favorite, began its renaissance in 1998, when Jimmy Walicek and a couple of pals met at Irish Times, a Washington bar, to discuss weekend plans.

"One of us brought up the idea of kickball," said Walicek, who at age 35 is the CFO of the World Adult Kickball Association. "That led one of us to say, 'OK, Sunday' and then one of us said, 'Yeah, Sunday, we'll start a league here in D.C., and then another in the state of Virginia . . . and from there, why don't we take over the world?' "

Done. Walicek and his friends, John LeHane (today the association's CTO) and David Lowry (CEO), started down a winding basepath that today has some 30,000 US players in 23 states registered with WAKA. Massachusetts, which has eight divisions in six cities (visit kickball.com), will play host Sept. 1 to the Founder's Cup, the WAKA national championship (playing field to be determined).

"Overall, I'd say we're more of a social club than an athletic league," said Walicek, who lives in Chantilly, Va. "Kickball's the reason to get people together and have fun. Mostly it's young professionals looking to expand their network of friends."

The average age of WAKA-registered players, according to Walicek, is 27, and each team must have a minimum of four men and four women. In many cases, parents are playing while their children watch from the sideline. WAKA's minimum age of registration is 21.

"You'll be at one of our games, and you'll hear the kids yelling, 'You go, mom, you go, dad!' " said Walicek. "It's sort of funny to hear that, because it's the opposite of what you're accustomed to hearing around a playing field."

Many of WAKA's players are in their 40s and 50s. Last year, said Walicek, a married couple -- average age 76.5 -- was the talk of their South Carolina division.

"The media loved it, and the couple loved it, too," said Walicek. "But ages vary, division to division, and depending on where the games are played. If you're in the city, players might be predominantly in their 20s. In the suburbs, you'll usually find an older crowd."

For the most part, kickball borrows baseball's rules, with the main exception that the ubiquitous red ball (10-inch diameter) can be tossed directly at a player as a means of getting him or her out. Unlike dodgeball, head shots are not allowed.

In terms of injury, rolled ankles and pulled hamstrings are common.

"Adults who haven't played in a long time tend to forget that they can't do what they did as kids, without stretching a lot before they play," warned Walicek. "And there are some broken bones now and then, but not a lot of that."

In D.C., where friends Walicek, LeHane, and Lowry first began to play, games are held six days a week (no Fridays) on the National Mall. The White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol are all within view of the field.

"You couldn't ask for a more impressive backdrop," said Walicek. "It's just beautiful, and in part, it's how we've grown the league. So many visitors, in from out of town to tour D.C., have seen us play. They ask what's going on and then go home and get signed up."

The social-first aspect of WAKA has spawned a fair amount of romance, said Walicek.

"Of course," he said. "You throw men and women together on the playing field, add some beer as gasoline, and, well, there have been plenty of kickball weddings, plenty of kickball romances, and, yeah, even a few kickball babies."

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