Feature Article - March 2013
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Out of the Ordinary

Make Way for Some Unexpected & Unusual Sports

By Dawn Klingensmith

Adaptive Reuse

Due in part to budget constraints, "One of the big trends we see in programming is people trying to use facilities they have in new and innovative ways—you take your existing facilities and find a new gimmick or sport," said Teresa Penbrooke, CEO and founder of GreenPlay, a parks, recreation and open space consulting firm based in Lafayette, Colo.

Newish sports like disc golf require sport-specific (though inexpensive) facilities, but underwater hockey and kayak water polo, for example, just use your standard "square pool," Penbrooke said.

Kayak polo, also called canoe polo, can also be played in a lake. A cross between water polo, basketball and hockey, it consists of two teams of five players paddling kayaks and passing a water polo ball using their hands and paddle. The object is to throw the ball into the opposing team's goal. Players cannot paddle while holding onto the ball and may only hold the ball for five seconds before they must pass or dribble. "While one team passes the ball and tries to score, the other team defends their goal and tries to gain possession of the ball. If a player has the ball, it is legal to push them over," according to the Austin (Texas) Aquabots Kayak Polo website.

The Austin team has been playing since 1998, and in 2001 a Washington State article gushed about the "big splash" kayak polo was making on a local lake. But in many places, kayak polo is just emerging as a "cool new trend," Penbrooke said.

Another tack programming directors are taking to draw more participants with minimal investment is "to take something adults remember fondly from childhood and do it in an existing gym or on an existing field," which explains the reemergence of kickball and dodgeball, Penbrooke said.

Serving All Constituents

Large ethnic populations in certain communities are driving demand for sports like futsal, a variation of soccer originating in South America, and played on a hard court. When St. George remodeled one tennis court for pickleball, its neighboring court was turned into a futsal court. "The court is packed every night," said Rosander, adding that St. George now has a thriving futsal league and plans to build a four-court facility. "That's another thing that's been driven by community pressure."

But again, budget concerns come into play. If futsal is taking off in St. George and elsewhere, it's because it's cheap to get up and running. "It's basically just a cement pad surrounded by a net," Rosander said of St. George's proposed new facility.

Compare that to cricket, "which in terms of different cultures is popular, but not growing by leaps and bounds because it takes a lot of money to build a cricket facility," Penbrooke said.

What about space for a fictional sport played by witches and wizards on flying brooms? College campuses in particular are grappling with this due to the rising popularity of a humanly possible variant of quidditch, a game from the Harry Potter books. The sport is sufficiently popular, in fact, to boast an International Quidditch Association, an annual Quidditch World Cup, an Intercollegiate Quidditch Association and Quidditch Quarterly magazine. Quidditch can be played on an ordinary field with an odd assortment of unelaborate equipment including broomsticks, hoops and balls.

The International Quidditch Association website notes: "Sports participation drops off during puberty, even among formerly active children, and the average teenager spends over seven hours a day in front of screens. We know from hosting clinics at elementary and middle schools around the country that quidditch gets kids excited about exercising, especially those who are uninterested in traditional sports."