On Saturday, the St. Pete Times Forum hosted more than 2,000 spectators and over 400 individual participants in the Dodgeball For A Cause tournament. It was, by all measures, a great success.
But first, a brief history of the sport of Dodgeball.
The origins of the sport of Dodgeball date back to…well…no one is really sure. Some speculate that Stonehenge was built as a Dodgeball arena. Others say the game originated in China. Others think it came from Africa, to Europe and then to the States. In any case, it’s been around for a long time and chances are you’re like Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who said she hadn’t played the game since elementary school, but enjoyed the re-introduction.
“This is fun,” Iorio said while observing the preliminary rounds. “I think this has opened my eyes to a new sport.”
Not playing the sport for years didn’t seem to be an issue at all. No one on the team that eventually triumphed in the tournament had played in years either.
The 64-team single-elimination tournament was organized by Clear Channel Radio of Tampa in conjunction with The St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning Foundation and the Tampa Bay Storm to benefit the Curtis/Kocab Memorial Fund for Tampa Police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, killed in the line of duty on June 29. As the tournament got underway, eight-member teams rushed onto and off the two courts set on either end of the Tampa Bay Storm playing field, but what appeared to be controlled confusion was actually under the well-organized supervision of volunteer tournament organizer Greg Gruhl, an employee of the United States Tennis Association (USTA).
“We have 64 teams in the tournament, but we easily could have enrolled about 60 more,” Gruhl explained.
The officials, also in perpetual motion, were all members of the West Coast Officials Association, local basketball officials who had donated their time to the cause. Several were retired police officers, but none had any previous involvement with Dodgeball, necessitating a period of serious study of the rules.
“Yeah, we studied,” Chuck Stanbro, a WCOA official and a retired Lieutenant with the Tampa Police Department laughed. “For about 10 minutes, I guess.”
During the early rounds of the tournament, Jane Castor, Chief of Police of the TPD watched the action from the sidelines
“What a great event,” Chief Castor said. “It means a great deal to the department – policemen and women just go about their business every day of protecting the public without any expectation of recognition or appreciation, and to see the outpouring of support from the community, it’s just overwhelming.”
Castor especially cheered on each team that featured members of the TPD, of which there were several. Most notable were the Gladiators, all TPD members who also play together on a flag football team. They swept through the opening two rounds, advancing to the Sweet 16, to face a team called Bring the Pain. During a break before the contest, the Gladiators discussed some strategy.
“Bring the Pain are wearing great t-shirts,” one Galdiator told another. “They’re older guys.” he continued, pointing to a group resting in the stands, “They’re sitting right there.”
“It doesn’t matter what they wear or how old they are or where they sit,” his teammate replied. “They’re going down.”
But in somewhat of an upset, it was the Gladiators who reached the end of the line and were eliminated. No worries.
“Participating means so much to us,” Officer Rob Fannin, a member of the Gladiator team explained. “I personally worked with both officers that were killed, in the same district and on that night, so it definitely means a lot to me. When this event came up, we knew we had to put a team together.”
An early crowd favorite was the team of Royal Court, an all-girl array of beauty contest winners, such as Miss Polk County and Miss Coral Gables, identifiable by the contest sash each wore. To great applause they won their opening match, but drew groans of disappointment from the crowd when they were eliminated by Office Products Warehouse in Round 2.
The elimination rounds continued until just two teams remained; the Neverland Ranch Hands and the CustomCornToss.com. CCT.com, sponsored by a company that manufactures a “bean bag toss game”, huddled in the corner of one end zone discussing strategy.
“We’re the only team in the Final Four with a girl playing,” Jason Martin, or “Flash” according to the back of his T-shirt, explained. “She’s a big part of our game – she catches the ball and passes it to us to throw.”
That bit of strategy would prove decisive in the final contest.
On the other side of the end zone, the Neverland Ranch Hands, named after one member’s Fantasy Football Team, exuded confidence, despite the fact that they had never practiced together before today.
“Practice is for people with no talent,” Tom, the team organizer and coach, explained.
The Ranch Hands, outfitted in matching t-shirts with Michael Jackson’s picture silkscreened on the front, had the edge in familiarity; they all play softball together and work dealing poker in the Hard Rock Hotel card room.
With a prize package of items valued at approximately $5,000 dollars hanging on the outcome, the final contest was a close, back-and-forth affair, with the men from Neverland maintaining an edge until finally, all the CornToss.com players, except for “Spunky”, the female team member, had been eliminated. With no one to toss the ball off to, Spunky, who sported black hair with a sizable blue streak in the front, was in trouble. Sensing victory, the Ranch Hands let the oversized red rubber ball fly at her from all angles until the win was theirs.
“We knew we had it when they were down to just one player.” Rob Hahn from Neveland explained amidst the celebration, “A great victory.”
And where do the NeverLand Ranch Hands go from here? Dodgeball travel tournaments, perhaps?
“We’re going to Splitsville!” Hahn said, referring to a popular bar and restaurant in the nearby Channelside. District.
They deserved to enjoy their win, of course, but even more important was the win for the Curtis/Kocab Memorial Fund, which, later that evening, received a check at halftime of the Tampa Bay Storm game. Greg Wolf, Promotions Director of 620 WDAE and 970 WFLA and Kasey Smith, Executive Director of the Lightning Foundation, we honored to present checks totaling $24,450 to Chief Castor and Sara Kocab.
“I thank the Lightning organization, the St. Pete Times Forum, Clear Channel and all the people who have shown up,” Mayor Iorio said. “An event like today’s, it just means everything. Our law enforcement, our military, our first-responders are people our community really respect and there is so much affection for them so that loss on June 29 will forever be in our memories”
And although all the participants and spectators had a good time, the reason for the benefit was never far from anyone’s mind. Hanging in the endzone from the goalpost, like two sentries always on guard, were two Tampa Bay Storm uniforms with the names of Curtis and Kocab, and their badge numbers, on the back.