Dodgeball is a sport that has picked up popularity across the globe since blockbuster comedy Dodgeball burst onto the big screen. Marissa Carruthers dives into a game at Cambodia’s only club. Photography by Rudi Tuwiro.
Dodgeball is a sport of “violence, exclusion and degradation,” according to sporting legend Patches O’Houlihan in smash hit 2004 comedy, Dodgeball.
Despite the game involving hurling balls at opposing players at high speed, this claim is strongly refuted by John Munger, who set up Phnom Penh’s first club for the sport in July. “I don’t think I’d go that far,” he says with a laugh before adding, “Although it depends on who’s throwing the ball.”
The American expat’s first experience of dodgeball was in school as a youngster when he would occasionally play in PE classes. But it wasn’t until he moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, four years ago and a friend started twice weekly sessions that he really got involved.
“I thought I’d give it a go, more for fun than anything else but I found I really enjoyed it,” the IT training manager says, citing fun, a gruelling workout and a good place to make new friends as key benefits of participation.
Just over a year ago, Munger moved to Cambodia, where dodgeball was non-existent. And after spending six months settling into the country, his craving for the sport set in. “I suddenly realised I really missed dodgeball,” he says. “My friends in Vietnam told me I should set up a club here when I was leaving but I laughed them off.”
Calling on their advice, Munger found a venue near the Russian Market, had some special inflatable dodgeballs shipped in from Vietnam and set up a Facebook group. Not expecting a great response, he was bowled over when more than 20 players showed up.
Since then, the group has continued to welcome new members weekly, with the last session seeing 12 budding dodgeball players turn up for training. And what has surprised him the most is the range of people playing.
Each week sees a healthy mix of men and women of all ages – from 13 to mid-40s – and nationalities. “We have quite a few Cambodians that attend,” Munger notes. “That’s really good to see because I don’t think many Cambodians have ever played dodgeball before.”
The exact history of dodgeball is sketchy but it is believed the first official rules were drawn up by an American university in 1905 when an official dodgeball association was formed.
The game sees two teams of players throw balls at each other while avoiding being hit themselves. While there are many variations, the ultimate aim is for each team to eliminate all members of the opposition by either hitting them with a ball or catching a ball that is thrown. If a ball is caught then another member of the catcher’s team can return to the court.
To discourage any blows to the head, rules state a player will stay in the game if they are hit there. Each of the Phnom Penh Dodgeball games last between five and 10 minutes, with about 10 to 15 people on each team.
“For me, it’s a really nice workout because you’re constantly moving and using a lot of muscles you don’t usually use,” Munger says, “It’s also a good way to relieve stress because you can throw the ball as hard as you want so you can take out all those frustrations.”
And you don’t have to be experienced to sign up for a session, with the start being dedicated to practising throws and catches and new members being taught the rules and shown demonstrations before jumping in.
The Californian’s ultimate aim is to take on his former teammates back in Saigon by setting up an international dodgeball tournament in the spring. “This would be an amazing experience for everyone,” he says, “especially if we win.”
As a ball goes whizzing by, O’Houlihan’s summary of the sport springs to mind. “People have been hit in the face,” Munger, whose worst wound is stretching tendons in his finger, says. “Thankfully, that doesn’t happen too often but there is, of course, the possibility of injury.”
Phnom Penh Dodgeball meets every Tuesday, from 7.30pm to 9.30pm at 13 Street 456, near Russian Market. $1.50 per person.