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The seven dodgeball players from UMM at the Las Vegas national tournament.

Mullet Removal beat Those Guys from Alaska, a team that it had earlier lost to, for the coed championship title. (From left to right: Randi Peterson, Amy Van Arkle, Lori Sylvester, Chris Butler, Aaron Thompson, Adam Sullivan, and Nate Oakland)

Dodge, duck, dip, and dive

Scouting helps Morris team to a world dodgeball championship

By Pauline Oo

Published on October 10, 2005

It doesn't take brute strength and a mean team name--like Devil's Cobras, for example--to win at dodgeball. It takes smarts and three basketball coaches from Morris on your side.

Mullet Removal, a hodge-podge team of people from the University of Minnesota, Morris, snagged top spot in the coed division at the National Dodgeball League's 2005 Dodgeball World Championship September 23-25 in Las Vegas. The team outplayed 22 others from states such as Alaska, California, and New York for the title. Mullet Removal, the only team from Minnesota, comprised Cougar women's head basketball coach Randi Peterson, women's assistant basketball coach Nate Oakland, men's assistant basketball coach Aaron Thompson and his sister Lori Sylvester, English lecturer Chris Butler, student Adam Sullivan, and their friend Amy Van Arkle.

Unlike the popular 2004 Dodgeball movie starring Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, the Morris team did not enter the tournament to save a cherished local gym. They played because they could.

"We just thought it would be a fun trip to take with buddies," says Peterson, who along with Thompson, was responsible for forming the team. (Thompson, the appointed team captain, had seen an ad for the tournament on the National Dodgeball League mailing list that he subscribes to.)

Like the movie, however, the team of unlikely heroes became the tournament underdog. Mullet Removal--the moniker the group went with because it was readily available on seven T-shirts at a local discount shop--dodged, ducked, dipped, and dived their way out of the loser's bracket on the second day of competition.

In dodgeball, players attempt to eliminate members of the opposing team by tagging them with a ball. If a player is hit with any ball that hasn't yet touched the floor, that player must leave the playing field.

"We played all the different teams [during round-robin matches on the first day], and we won 4 games out of 11," says Peterson. "So we were not very good. We actually lost our first game in about 13 seconds." Despite ending up on the very bottom of the bracket, the team kept its wits and also realized that knowing "some of the rules from elementary school" wasn't enough to prolong their Las Vegas vacation.

Why dodgeball?

The popularity of dodgeball has been spreading nationwide at a frenetic pace since Ben Stiller's comedy hit the big screen.

"One reason [people are drawn to dodgeball] is that it's very fast paced--it has video game-like speed--and I think we have a natural draw toward fast-paced types of activities," says Chris Butler, a UMM Mullet Removal team member. "The second reason is it's a little bit reminiscent for people--dodgeball is a very common game played in grade school gym class. But there are some people who have negative memories--dodgeball at the [youth] level is kind of this malicious gang-up-on-the-weak-kid game, but now that we're adults, I think we play for true sport."

At the U, intramural dodgeball is offered in the winter on the Morris campus and fall and spring on the Twin Cities campus. The Duluth campus only offers dodgeball as a club sport. To learn more about dodgeball or opportunities to play it in your city (in a league or as a pickup game), see the National Dodgeball League.

"Three of us on the team are coaches and part of our job is scouting players at basketball games," says Peterson. "So we naturally started watching what other teams were doing. We realized we could pinpoint their best throwers and keep their weakest throwers in the longest so that we could end up at an advantage." For Mullet Removal's stonger throwers to remain in the game, "our weaker throwers became [their] blockers or human shields." In other words, adds Peterson, "as long as we could keep [our best thrower Aaron Thompson] in, we had a really good shot of winning."

The seven Mullet Removal players had never played together as a team prior to the tournament because of scheduling conflicts. But three of them--Peterson, Thompson, and Butler--had participated as a team in a variety of campus intramural leagues, such as basketball, softball, and dodgeball.

"When Aaron and Randi first pitched this idea," recalls Butler, who teaches college writing to first-year students, "I thought, 'We're decent athletes but we're really going to be in over our heads.' I did not think in a million years we would win. So I rationalized the entire endeavor by saying, 'Well, it's a trip to Las Vegas.'"

And it ended up being a trip that paid for itself. Butler says the $3,000 top prize, part of the tournament's $15,000 cash purse, covered the team's expenses and entry fee. How did the team celebrate its win? "We stayed up by touring the Las Vegas strip at night," quips Butler.

Will Mullet Removal defend its title next year?

"Depending on where the tournament is and when it is, we would be willing to go back," says Peterson. "Whether or not we have the same seven players will depend on everyone's schedules. [The Las Vegas tournament] was really fun, and even if we don't win next year it would be worth going back because it was such a good time. We just really gelled as a team... because we were definitely not the most strategic or the best team out there."

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