Ultimate Dodgeball Championships: 'There's nowhere to hide'

COSTA MESA — Women came dressed to the Orange County Fair as walking zombies and men as superheroes. Halloween is 13 weeks away, yet the fair gave them their own stage on Saturday.

The characters showed up to compete, and not for best costume. They, along with seven dozen other adults dressed up, made their way down to the fairground's Action Sports Arena to avoid each other.

That turned out to be impossible in a game of dodgeball played inside a 50x25-foot cage.

The Ultimate Dodgeball Championships returned to the fair for the second straight year. The event featured 15 teams and four cages.

The fencing used for the cages looked like they belonged outside a condemned house. Who said dodgeball is safe?

Dodgeball can be dangerous, just ask Sa Dao, or watch the movie, "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story." Dao is the co-founder of Orange County-based Next Level Athletic Sports, which put on the event at the fair.

"Like any sport, some people get hurt," said Dao, who has seen players injure ankles, hands and knees playing dodgeball. "Sometimes accidents happen, or some people think they're in the [same] shape as they were in high school. Their mind tells them they can do something, but their body's like, 'Uh, no, no, no!'

"[Our event is] kind of like cage fights. There's nowhere to run. There's nowhere to hide. All you can do is just dodge."

Fairgoers actually came out to watch a sport that usually never draws much of an audience.

Dao said he expected as many as 700 fans for the playoff games at night after the pool-play games in the afternoon attracted about half that amount. In the evening, fans began to fill the grandstand while Dao introduced the 11 men's teams and four women's teams.

The first team Dao announced featured female walking zombies with a lot of blood and falling limbs. The Dodging Dead didn't move so fast, hurting its chances of dodging the 8-inch rubber balls during the seven-on-seven matches.

Some of the names of the men's teams (Balls to the Face and The Average Joses) proved to be better than their actual teams.

The Average Joses came out in sombreros, just another big target for the opposition to hit. The Average Joses stood no chance of claiming the 3 1/2-foot championship trophy, which featured a gold dodgeball on top.

As a consolation prize, an Average Jose player spent most of the night holding a head-sized sprinkled bacon doughnut. He planned to eat it before the final, announcing to the crowd that he could consume the doughnut in 10 minutes without using his hands or fake mustache.

He devoured the doughnut in half that time. When asked how he pulled it off, he said he was Jesus. His first name is really Jesus, last is Avila.

Avila stuck around to watch the men's final, which almost saw Batman and his Sober Friends (not his Super Friends), face off against The Gun Show. But Robin, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine and Superwoman let Batman down.

Superwoman did use his superhuman powers to pelt Vince Marchbanks, considered one of the best dodgeball players in the country.

"It was distracting because of his midriff," said Marchbanks, who bumped his head on the ground while trying to dodge Superwoman's ball.

Marchbanks is one of those guys who makes money playing a game he used to enjoy on rainy days as a kid during P.E. class.

He said kids are no longer allowed to play the sport in grade school. Marchbanks, 29, would know as a physical education teacher at a private school in Culver City.

"They outlawed it because it encouraged bullying," Marchbanks said. "Adults have picked it up."

Marchbanks has turned dodgeball into a career of sorts. Since December, he said his Los Angeles-based DOOM team has won $45,000. He said the seven-player team splits the earnings.

Marchbanks was one of two members from that DOOM team that helped the Fear and Loathing in OC reach the championship against The Gun Show. The teams are familiar with each other, having squared off in last year's inaugural Ultimate Dodgeball Championship match at the fair, as well as in other tournaments throughout Southern California.

While most players said they enjoy the cage matches at the fair, Marchbanks prefers competing on trampolines. For someone like Marchbanks, who can leap away from balls or duck them in a hurry, landing on a hard dirt surface or hitting a fence isn't ideal.

What is ideal is the atmosphere at the fair, performing in front of fans.

"You feed off of them," Marchbanks said. "There's always a good guy and a bad guy. Momentum shifts. It's more dynamic.

"People are going to see that dodgeball is a real sport. Hopefully it does get picked up as a Olympic [sport]. I would love to be on Team USA."

For now, Marchbanks must settle for venues like the Orange County Fair and a silver at this year's games.

Marchbanks and his Fear and Loathing in OC team ran out of energy at the end. The Gun Show, which lost to Marchbanks' L.A. Ballers team in the final last year, easily beat the Fear and Loathing in OC. The Gun Show went unbeaten during the one-day tournament.

"We didn't exactly get to play against the same team, but it was similar and we definitely got some redemption on that," said Gun Show member Brian Weingart, who also saw last year's women runner-up, Pop That, come through in this year's championship. "They're our girls. We get to put two trophies together."

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