By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – On Thursday nights from August to October, kids play around mostly empty bleachers and behind dugouts at Veterans Park.
It’s adult time on the fields, where coed teams play kickball against each other. And, no, they’re not exactly epic contests.
“Every dispute is settled with a game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ between the two captains,” said Alex Wilcox, sports director for the Tupelo Department of Parks and Recreation.
This is the third year for Park and Rec to offer adult kickball, and it seems to be catching on.
“We’ve got 14 teams this year. Last year, we had 10,” Wilcox said. “I’d like to get it to about 20 next year.”
For the most part, it’s the same as the old school yard game. The pitcher rolls the ball to the kicker, contact is made and bases are run.
If a defender catches the ball, it’s an out, but the official 10-inch kickball tends to bounce off players’ chests.
Defenders also can throw a player out by hitting the runner with the ball, but the throw better hit below the shoulders or the runner will get an extra base.
“It’s pretty much the same rules from when we were kids,” said Albert Collins, 31, of Tupelo, a member of Turnt Up. “Except that when we were kids, you could make up your own rules.”
A few years ago, Don Lewis, former director of Park and Rec, was at a conference in Baltimore, and he stopped by a crab shack for a bite to eat.
“I saw all these people come in,” he said. “They were in their 20s and 30s, and they had on these shirts, Baltimore Social Club.”
Further investigation revealed the city offered kickball, Wiffle ball and other adult sports.
“I came back to Tupelo and said, ‘I want to start a kickball league,’” Lewis said.
It costs $100 per team, and the players form their own teams. The Scotland Yard Dogs attend or have friends who attend First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.
“It’s a fellowship kind of thing,” said the Yark Dogs’ Steve Bryson, 34, of Saltillo.
Toe-Up is a collection of friends and family members from Tupelo and surrounding environs.
“Some of my friends live here in Tupelo,” said Toe-Up’s Mike Williams, 33, of the Unity community. “My sister-in-law, she plays. She lives in Dorsey, and couple of friends live in New Albany. We’ve got them coming in from not too far away, but it’s still a drive.”
After their games, which can begin at 6:15 or 7:15 p.m. on Thursdays, the assembled Toe-Up crowd goes to dinner at a Mexican restaurant on Veterans Boulevard.
“People’s kids come out and cheer them on,” Williams said. “It’s just something fun to do.”
Some teams are more focused on the games than others. Shawanaca Swing, 28, of Tupelo, is a member of Turnt-Up, and her team has had three practices.
“We practiced pretty hard, but I wasn’t sore,” she said. “I enjoyed it.”
The One Kick Wonders thought about practicing.
“We talked about it but no one was up for it,” said Brittany Hall, 28, of Pontotoc.
The Scotland Yard Dogs haven’t won a game but they don’t seem upset about it. Team members get weekly pep talks from Ariel Owens, 34, of Tupelo, but they’re more for entertainment than inspiration.
Here’s a sample: “We are down to the final 3 games. I am very glass half empty/half full about this. I mean on the one hand it means we are winding down our weekly trip to the slaughter house … but on the other hand … we really do have a BLAST whether we win or lose … right??? RIGHT!!!”
When players get to the field, some stretch before the games, others just jump right into the action. There have been minor injuries, including hamstring pulls and twisted ankles.
“Every player on the roster has to sign a release form,” Wilcox said.
There are no umpires at the seven-inning games and teams keep track of their own lineups. Adult kickball is a relaxed affair.
“We allow them to have red plastic cups in the dugouts,” Wilcox said, “which kind of tells you what’s going on out here.”
In addition to playing games and socializing, there is an intellectual component to adult kickball: Who can come up with the best team name?
This year’s names include Kickelob Ultra, KBC Oleput, Balls ‘n’ Dolls and Happy Feet.
“Park and Rec has a team, but it’s not called Park and Rec,” Wilcox said. “We’re The Most Interesting Team in the World.”
All of the teams will compete in a season-ending tournament that will start on Oct. 28, and players on the top team will get T-shirts in honor of their kickball accomplishments.
“I’m looking into getting a Kickball Cup, a trophy to have all the winners on it for posterity,” Wilcox said.
As with any competition, there will be winners and losers. The idea is for players to have fun, and maybe get in touch with their inner children.
“We’re still learning,” said Scotland Yard Dogs’ Leslie Geoghegan, 54, of Tupelo. “Like how to kick the ball.”