Ninjas bring dodgeball to West Side

By JeffGraveline

Dodgeball, the sport popularized by grade school gym class and recess, is back and it’s drawing people from all over the Chicagoland area to courts around the area. The Aberdeen Street Dodgeball Ninjas, one of the many Chicago-based dodgeball clubs, is taking the game to a new level with weekly pickup games and their annual Halloween Dodgeball Tournament.

The skills and techniques that players acquire while playing with the Ninjas can be put on display during their two yearly tournaments, the next of which is the Halloween Tournament on Oct. 30.

“It’s just like every other Halloween tournament—we encourage costumes,” said Mike Pena, 22, a recent University of Illinois at Chicago graduate. “This year especially, because we get to be sponsored by Red Bull. The guys are going to come out here and promote Red Bull and we’re hoping to get new balls out of them too.”

In the early summer months, everyone wants to come out and play,  Pena said. However, as it gets colder, fewer people show up, but that doesn’t stop the dodgeball.

“As the season wears on to October and November, it gets more cold, so not a lot of people go except for those that are really into the game,” Pena said. “They really want to develop their skills more so they come here, learning the game and improving their technique.”

The Ninjas take their tournaments seriously, bringing everything they can to make sure that players and teams have the best time possible.

During their previous summer tournament, which opened their dodgeball season, the Ninjas had an action photo booth, commentators and cash prizes for winners, Pena said.

For the past four tournaments, Tony Cabreria, 22, and his team Shark Week have defeated the competition.

“We’re going to come play as [Shark Week],” Cabreria said. “We don’t know if we’re going to dress up as sharks or whatever, but maybe.”

The Ninjas play their dodgeball games on an outdoor hockey area that they retrofit to fill their needs. With a rope line crossing halfway between each side of the court, a safe zone is created. The safe zone is the only spot on the court where the other team cannot run.

Play begins when the referee yells “dodgeball” and the two teams race to the center line to gather the balls. Once the teams have the balls, it turns into a free-for-all with balls flying from every angle and players being knocked out if a ball hits any part of their body.

Players can only get back into a game if one of their teammates catches a ball thrown by the opposing team on the fly.

If the ball is caught, a team member from the catcher’s team comes in and the thrower is out of the game.

With a sport that is meant to be played by school-aged children, there is the question of why adults would play a children’s game. Cabreria said he plays because of the friendships he has made.

“It’s the whole experience, everybody is really nice here,” Cabreria said. “We are competitive, but we are still really good sports about it.”

The friendship and competition can be seen every Tuesday and Thursday night, weather permitting, at Sheridan Park, 910 S. Aberdeen St., near UIC. The Ninjas and those looking to play dodgeball gather at the park to play from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on an outdoor court.

“We have a last game and that’s TKO; once you get hit, you’re out and you go home,” said Angel Armenta, 21, who has been playing in the pickup games since the summer and will be part of a team during the Halloween tournament.

More information about the Aberdeen Street Dodgeball Ninjas and their Halloween Tournament can be found on their Web site,