As It Happens

Profs took aim at dodgeball. Now the head of Dodgeball Canada is fighting back

Education researchers presented a paper calling the sport a tool of "oppression" and "dominance," but Duane Wysynski says dodgeball is a game of teamwork and strategy.

'Inclusion is a big part of our sport,' says Duane Wysynski

Team USA prepares for gametime during the World Dodgeball Federation's 2017 World Championships in Markham, Ont. (Anil Mungal/Facebook/WDBF World Dodgeball Championships)
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For some, the word dodgeball might trigger painful childhood memories of being pummelled with a ball by the most sadistic kid in your class while your gym teacher looked on. 

Others might think of the 2004 not-Oscar-winning movie Dodgeball.

Some academics don't think much of the sport either.  At the Congress of the Humanities and Social Science in Vancouver last week, a trio of professors led by the University of British Columbia's Joy Butler argued that dodgeball reinforces oppression, reports the National Post.

Butler also told CBC Vancouver's The Early Edition that dodgeball should be banned from schools because it is "tantamount to legalized bullying."

Now Duane Wysynski, the head of Dodgeball Canada, is coming to his sport's defence, writing in the Post's opinion section that "inclusion is at the very heart of dodgeball."

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Duane, [the movie Dodgeball says it's] a sport of violence, exclusion and degradation. How painful is it for you to hear those words?

Well, it's kind of funny. The movie is a popular one, and it gets referenced almost every time we bring up the sport. But [that] just hasn't been our experience.

It's a bit of a source of amusement in the community, because our community is actually made up of a lot of people who have moved into our sport from more mainstream sports where they didn't necessarily feel included. Inclusion is a big part of our sport.

 

The nature of the sport is to smash balls into your opponent's body, right?

No, I wouldn't say that's the nature, to smash balls. Yes, you do throw balls, and the object of the sport is to hit people and to get them out through hitting them with the ball.

But it would be like saying that the nature of hockey is to lay someone out with a hard check, or the nature of football is to hit a crushing tackle. 

Teams that rely on brute strength are not going to be successful, because trying to overpower someone with a direct throw is almost always going to result in a catch.

Our sport focuses on teamwork and strategy. Hitting someone in the toe or picking them off on the hand is always going to be a better way to get an out than to go at someone really hard with the ball.

The balls that we use in competition, right from youth to high-performance competition, are foam balls. So they are specifically designed to not cause a lot of pain.

Team Canada making leaps at the World Dodgeball Federation's 2017 World Championships in Markham, Ont. (Anil Mungal/Facebook/WDBF Dodgeball World Championships)

The National Post did a story quoting academics who were concerned dodgeball sends kids the wrong message. One of them says there is a moral problem with dodgeball. It encourages students to aggressively single out others and to enjoy exclusion and dominance as a victory. Where do you take it from there?

It's difficult to look at any sport and not see that part of the point of the sport is to win or to get better or to improve yourself. 

What we try to do with dodgeball is, especially for youth, we focus on the aspects of teamwork, strategy, of fellowship within the game, of communication on the court. And winning becomes kind of secondary at that age.

I compare it a bit to when you start playing something like Tim Hortons soccer. You don't even keep the score because the objective isn't to get the kids to be extremely complex on the field with their footwork and to score a lot of goals. But it's introducing them to the core mechanics of the sport. It's introducing them to the athleticism of the sport. 

A UBC professor says dodgeball is 'tantamount to legalized bullying.' (Dodgeball PEI/Facebook)

But the concern is that it picks on kids. A lot of the complaints are about the weak kid in the school or some kid that gets bullied ends up being victimized in this game. Is that the reality?

No. I think again I think it depends on how any sport is taught, how is it introduced.

I actually received an email earlier this morning after the reply, the rebuttal to the post was printed. And the comment was from someone who was in her 50s and she said one of the things she liked about dodgeball was every little mistake wasn't put on display.  Because there were six balls and there was lots going on, if she made a mistake it wasn't on display as opposed to when she played baseball and it was obvious when she was at the bat if she couldn't perform or could perform.

Maybe you need a sequel to Dodgeball where everybody's playing by rules and becoming better people.

You know, you could make a really good movie like that. It doesn't necessarily have to be about the harsh nature of it.

No one is going to say that there aren't times in dodgeball, or any sport, where there is a big hit or a big catch or a dive or something that is very physically impressive, and you look at it and say, "Wow, that's excellent. That caught my attention." 

I mean, that's always going to happen, and we're not saying it's going to go away completely.

Written by Sarah-Joyce Battersby. Interview produced for radio by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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