It is quickly apparent to potential members of DePaul’s dodgeball club that even the team’s most seasoned players will welcome rookies to the game with open arms.
Seniors Grant Herrejon, Austin Downs, Matthew “Howitzer” Schroeder and Sam Murphy sat with newcomers at the Student Center after a recent practice and were more than willing to discuss upcoming games and educate the group on how their club operates.
“I think to DePaul, dodgeball is a club that is able to bring back one of everyone’s favorite grade school playground games and be able to play it with the exact same rules, except we’re in college now,” senior Mike McNicholas said.
As an official DePaul club for 14 years running, the group has become an organization that is competitive, yet focused on having a good time. With 27 men and seven women making up the team of 34, the club is an easy way to meet new people
“I advise everyone to try it out at least once, even if you don’t enjoy the sport,” Herrejon said. “It can be daunting to new players. … However, it’s almost never a dull time and never a dull conversation.”
Murphy, co-president of the team, has been involved in the club since his freshman year. He initially got involved after seeing the way students bonded over the game.
“I had made my way around different organizations and clubs, but it wasn’t until I played dodgeball that I realized what had been missing from other clubs and organizations — and that was the camaraderie and friendship,” Murphy said.
Every Monday and Thursday, about 40 players, comprised of veterans and newcomers, huddle onto court four of the Ray Meyer Fitness Center to learn and practice techniques and skills for upcoming tournaments.
Each season, the club participates in nearby tournaments against other schools. The amount of games varies each year, with four to six being the average.
The club has competed in one tournament so far this season at Michigan State, winning 3-1 against Western Kentucky. They typically compete in one or two tournaments per quarter and spend more time hosting guest nights at DePaul.
“The competition level at these tournaments is always much higher than how we play here at DePaul. But we always manage to come out, have fun and even surprise some of the teams with how competitive we can be,” Murphy said.
Downs, a four-year player, uses dodgeball as a distraction from reality. As a way to forget his stress, he focuses solely on dodgeball when on the court.
On a rare occasion, the club will switch up their practice schedule and go into tournament-style games as a way of easing the players into the atmosphere faced at competitions. The club is also sure to review new players on aspects of the game like boundaries, opening rush and catching a ball out. Still, nothing compares to physically being there on the competition floor.
“In the moment you hear everyone on your team cheering for you, or just some friendly trash talking,” McNicholas said. “There are times the ball just missed your head, and you feel like you cheated death. Then other times you drop to your knees laughing because someone on the other team got hit in the privates for the third time that game.”
McNicholas said while the players may carry heated, friendly rivalries with other teams, they are also able to chat and form friendships after the game is over — something that represents DePaul well. These players are talented at not letting their aggression leave the court.
“Although guys like Howitzer can be intimidating on the court, he’s one of the nicest, most laid back robots off the court,” Herrejon said. “It’s impossible to join dodgeball for the first time, play a couple of weeks and not walk out of it with a friend.”
Murphy’s goal is to make sure the team is still laughing and goofing around when he graduates. He wants everyone to remember to enjoy the experience.
“This club has meant a lot to a lot of people,” Murphy said. “I just hope that I can inspire people the way those ahead of me inspired me to enjoy the company we travel through college with. It’s a club for everyone, by everyone.”
Danielle Harris contributed to this story.