UI dodgeball club earns national status

Feb. 23—CHAMPAIGN — In the last two years, the University of Illinois dodgeball club has exploded from a concept dreamed up in a dorm room to a nationally ranked team.

Charles Cardenas, an electrical engineering major and current club president, said that he started the club in fall 2022 for pure love of dodgeball.

He's been playing since he was 7 years old.

"My friends and I were in a park district league, and I guess the thrill of the game never went away for me," Cardenas said.

This club is part of a growing trend, as the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association — which currently has the Illini ranked 19th in the nation — adds new clubs each year.

While the game is basically the same as what Cardenas played in the park and most American public schools offer in P.E., college-level matches are a bit more intense.

"Sure, it can be a relaxed game of throwing balls willy nilly at your friends, but when competing for a win, teamwork and strategy are necessary," Cardenas said. "The game might seem simple, but our rule book has multiple pages on specific interactions that might occur on the court."

Even with this competitive tone, Cardenas said that his favorite thing about dodgeball is the community of players.

That social aspect was definitely a plus for some of the current executive board to join the team.

Sirshaun Bush, who is studying communications, and Nora Danaher, who is in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, both joined with intentions of making some friends and getting exercise at the same time.

"Being able to have some fun running around full speed, ducking and dodging, sliding and skating — what else could you ask for in a sport?" Bush asked.

Media and cinema studies major Kamryn Grey was a high school softball player and loved the team aspect, so dodgeball "seemed like a perfect fit."

"I thought it was so cool that there was an entire club dedicated to the sport," said Grey.

Cardenas said that people are often surprised at the existence of college dodgeball, since it's mostly associated with more casual playground environments, but there is no shortage of students interested in joining.

At a few practices, the main challenge was fitting everybody on a single basketball court in the ARC.

Danaher credits word of mouth for some of the team's growth.

"Everyone in dodgeball does their part in making the team successful by inviting friends and giving us their all," she said.

She and Bush both feel that the group's diversity makes it unique.

Grey specifically said that the number of women in the club creates an environment where more women feel comfortable showing up.

"I know seeing a bunch of men flinging balls at each other isn't the most inviting," Grey said.

Once somebody tries the dodgeball club out, she finds that they almost always come back.

"Many of us share the same fire for the game, and everyone contributes to a family-like community," Cardenas said.

That's why he thinks they've been able to make a national name for themselves after such a short time.

He called it community, Bush called it chemistry, Grey called it teamwork and Danaher said everyone is "doing their part."

The dodgeball club hopes to attend three tournaments this semester, but the one that is set in stone is the NCDA Nationals in April.

The tournament will be held at Ohio State University, but will be livestreamed on YouTube as well.

"We're excited to work towards nationals and show our competition what we got," Cardenas said.