Once considered a recreational activity for day camp counselors and physical education teachers to occupy the time and energy of precocious youth, kickball is enjoying a resurgence among young professionals in the DMV area.
Among reasons for its rise in the area is Goombay, an outdoor adventure and team sports company which targets urban professionals. Goombay helps former athletes scratch their competitive itch with kickball leagues, and has created similar offerings for volleyball, flag football, and paintball. These are not just weekend warriors or armchair athletes—they are beginners and experienced players seeking serious competition.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, James “Butch” Goodwin created Goombay in 1988 out of a passion to participate in recreational sports activities thought to be outside the box for most African Americans. In one early effort, Goodwin wished to go whitewater rafting with his contemporaries, and when the trip was beyond their means, he paid the tab for 30 people to join him. Goodwin said the trip was eye-opening for both him and his guests, who had never been exposed to navigating through the raging rapids of western Pennsylvania.
The exhilaration of that experience served as the genesis for creating the organization. Goodwin said he believed that anyone exposed to a sport or adventure activity could appreciate it if they became knowledgeable about all aspects of it while developing a sense of environmental awareness.
“I just thought it would be interesting to see how people would react after giving them a chance to experience something that was outside the box,” Goodwin said. “It became more than just a recreational activity, it became a bonding thing where relationships were formed and it took off from there.”
In its nearly 30 years of operation, Goombay has expanded beyond the DMV with groups in Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, and Jackson, Mississippi featuring volleyball, dodgeball, and kickball leagues. The company offers training and coaching for individual players to help develop their skillset, while promoting physical fitness. But ensuring each athlete is equipped with the knowledge of how to play the game is not as simple as it looks.
“People often think you just roll a ball up towards someone, so they can kick it hard [and that’s] how you play the [kickball] game,” said Goodwin. “But you have to learn how to position your foot to make contact. So if your coach wants you to aim for right field or use a softer technique to bunt, we teach players that.”
More than 20 co-ed and women’s kickball leagues are active in southern Prince George’s County, and some have a fan base that is as passionate as the athletes themselves. As the leagues have grown, they have added more divisions based on abilities and player development. With the number of players growing and their skills developing, the games are as intense and entertaining as any professional sport.
On any given Sunday or Tuesday night during league play, the fields at Walker Mill Park in District Heights, Md. are filled with as many as 1,000 fans and players. Most teams have a following, and fans—many of whom are friends and family of players—wear their team’s colors and make their presence felt with chants, cheers, and support, creating a something more than just a night at the park.