“Ready, set, go!” shouts Ahnee Min, the woman in charge, as she watches two teams from the sidelines in Dolores Park.
The opposing teams, each with six members, run to the center of an improvised court bounded by yellow rope. When they reach the center, they all grab for the bright orange balls lined up there and then back up, walking or jogging, preparing to throw them at their opponents.
Welcome to Min’s biweekly dodgeball meet-up. Every other Sunday, a group of about a dozen people gather in the grassy area near the park’s tennis courts to play the game.
Yes, dodgeball — the game played by kids in elementary school and the subject of a comedy flick starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller — is back and enjoying a resurgence, from neighborhood parks to college recreational centers.
The dodgeball fans at Dolores Park don’t exactly stand out from the Sunday afternoon crowd, which consists of musicians jamming, ballet dancers twirling and hula-hoop spinners shaking their hips as they all have fun before the work week begins.
Yet they are faithful, coming from all over the Bay Area to play. Most heard about the event through Meetup, a website that’s the best way to learn about pickup games around the Bay Area. The San Francisco dodgeball group has been around for about three years and has a little over 1,000 members.
For those who played the game in their elementary school uniforms, with a circle for a court, the style of play has changed. Dodgeball is now officially played on a rectangular court approximately 60 feet by 30 feet.
Players are divided into two teams of six. Players from both teams run to the center of the court at the same time and grab as many of the six balls as they can. The object of the game is to hit any member of the opposing team without the opposing player catching the ball. If the ball is caught, the thrower is automatically out and the opposing team is able to bring a teammate back onto the court. This continues until the last team member is left on the court.
Min’s two dodgeball squads are a disparate group of men and women ranging in age from 20 to 50. They come from as far away as San Jose to play in the Mission District park. They have no uniforms and dress in a variety of styles.
The group tries to play twice a month for two hours; the cost is $5, to cover meet-up fees and balls.
Min got involved with dodgeball after a trip to Portland, Ore., where someone mentioned the game to her. When she returned to San Francisco, she searched for the sport online and came across Meetup. Realizing that 450 people were on a list to play, waiting for an organizer, she took the lead and now has been in charge for three years.
“I didn’t know why no one had started it, so I took the bold step,” she said.
Eric Varedy, 32, an engineer who lives down the street, decided one day to jump in. He is now in his eighth pickup game.
“Some people have no skills but everyone is very accepting,” he said. “Some people have a good arm and some people can’t throw a ball, [but] all people are welcome, so come and have a good time.”
On Sundays, Dolores Park can be crowded with hundreds of park-goers. But, Varedy says, “All the people around the park are tolerant and cool that all these balls are flying everywhere, which is neat. I feel like it’s been here a long enough time where it’s like tradition, and locals recognize it.”
Kim Westberry, 27, a San Francisco resident, played dodgeball in the third grade and remembers that she inevitably got hit in the face at least once each tournament.
Westberry also heard about the event through Meetup, and says she would come back because “everyone is having fun.”
“Obviously it’s pretty competitive,” she said, “but we’re not out here to hurt each other or do anything crazy.”