Thursday, September 1, 2011

Not just for recess anymore: Newbury Park kickball league one of many cropping up in area

From:


This is my first feature story in a professional paper.


THAT’S NO SECOND-GRADER—Kyle Colon, above, winds up for a huge kick during a preseason adult kickball league game at Peppertree Park in Newbury Park on Monday. The game was part of the league’s opening night and included a clinic to learn the rules. Below, Anjee Burtnik just misses catching a fly ball. The league is for people ages 21 and up. The deadline to sign up is Sept. 19. 
Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers THAT’S NO SECOND-GRADER—Kyle Colon, above, winds up for a huge kick during a preseason adult kickball league game at Peppertree Park in Newbury Park on Monday. The game was part of the league’s opening night and included a clinic to learn the rules. Below, Anjee Burtnik just misses catching a fly ball. The league is for people ages 21 and up. The deadline to sign up is Sept. 19. Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers
By Dashiell Young-Saver
There was no taunting the pitcher for being a “belly-itcher.” There was no complaining about “boo-boos” or “cuties.” There was no rush to finish before dinner time or the recess bell.
However, there was running and kicking. There was laughing and cheering. And, most importantly, there was the big, bouncy, red, inflatable rubber ball.
The recess pastime of kickball has moved to the big leagues, as self-professed “big children” took the field for the CA Canyon Adult Kickball League’s season opening pickup game and clinic at Pepper Tree Playfield in Newbury Park on Monday.
The event marked the beginning of the coed league’s third season since its founding in 2010. Since then, it has grown to six teams with more than 90 kickball rookies and experienced veterans competing and making friends by playing a game once reserved for elementary school children.
“(The league) has expanded to become a community,” said Nicole Silberstein, a league spokesperson and two-season veteran. “The majority of my social circle is made up of kickball players.”
According to the Newbury Park league’s founder Karen Heffelfinger, 33, what separates kickball from other adult sports like softball is that the atmosphere is more relaxed and conducive to making friends and building a community.
“We are really geared towards being a social organization as much as a sports organization,” said Heffelfinger, an interior designer by trade. “Everybody is a little bit of a kid at heart, so it is a fun environment where the players end up making a lot of good friends.”
But make no mistake. The games are not only social but competitive. The pitchers have mastered high-bouncing balls, slow-rollers, curveballs and fastballs. The teams have developed different bunting strategies.
Many wear rubber baseball and soccer cleats, and a couple of participants wear baseball batting gloves for extra grip on the ball.
“There are people at all skill levels. It is a good combination of seriousness and silliness,” said Brian Dennert, a Simi Valley resident and kickball athlete.
The league age requirement restricts players that are too young for adult kickball. The minimum age is 21, and the majority of the players are in their 20s and 30s; however, according to Silberstein, the league has had a broad range of ages, including one player in his 70s.
Although the adult kickball games are similar to the iconic elementary school games in terms of rules and play, there are many features of the league that are unmistakably “adult.”
For instance, there is an official bar, Azar’s Sports Bar and Steakhouse, which offers discounts on drinks to participants before and after games.
Also, a party bus chaperoned players the Saturday before the clinic to different locations for players to have fun and attract new members for the league.
The season is eight weeks long and includes theme weeks such as “MASH,” “AARP” and “Halloween,” where the teams dress in costume while playing.
The CA Canyon board also has fundraisers for a different charity every season. Last season, it raised $1,400 for Malibu Pet Companion.
“We have set a large goal to raise more money for charity this season,” Silberstein said.
The CA Canyon League is one of many leagues in the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA).
Since its founding in 1998, WAKA has expanded to 35 states and was named one of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in the United States by Inc. magazine, growing 63 percent in the last three years.
Every year during Columbus Day weekend, WAKA holds the Kickball Games Tournament in Las Vegas, where the best adult kickballers in the nation flock to compete for the Founder’s Cup.
The regular season for the CA Canyon League begins on Sept. 12, and the deadline to register is Sept. 19. The cost to play is $77.
For more information, visit the league’s website at www.kickball.com/cacanyon.

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