Like burlesque troops and roller derby teams, adult kickball leagues are a recent and retro national phenomenon. Possibly because nonmusicians also suffer a primal urge to start bands, or because kickball welcomes nonathletes, or because, as with golf, bowling and fishing (other 'sports" that double as excuses to drink), kickball at least seems healthier than sitting in a bar. Or perhaps this schoolyard game is now peaking simply because, after one buys the big red rubber ball, kickball is practically free. For whatever reason, many people are playing kickball again. On a recent Sunday in St. Patrick's Park in Mid-City, the Kickball of Crescent City (KOCC) league obviously spent a ton on food and booze to fuel its big playoff games.
There were many recognizable faces among the young adults on the muddy field standing, running, sometimes kicking, always sipping: at least two baristas from local coffee shops, one DJ from WTUL and 26-year-old Chrissy Gross, the production manager at the Republic nightclub, who also serves as KOCC's commissioner.
Barefoot Gross changes into a red-striped tube top in homage to one of the teams currently competing for the honor of worst in the KOCC. The proudly bad team's first-base runner wears a skull-and-bones cape, poised at the ready beside an umpire in full uniform, swigging a cup of keg beer. Gross changes her dirty outfit throughout the day in tribute to whichever team is playing, though this is not the extent of her love of kickball: Gross' wrist bears an F-shaped lightening bolt tattoo, standing for the Furies, her kickball team. Chrissy says that the Furies' pitcher has the same tattoo on each of his middle fingers, so that the opposing team's 'batter" can see the Furies' insignia in the pitcher's follow-through.
The KOCC league was formed in 2004 by Toni Weick in cahoots with Finn McCool's Pub, Gross says. Initially there were four teams. KOCC now boasts 16 teams, including Hooked on Tonics, the Hangovers, the Pieholes, plus teams of employees from New Orleans Rum, Reginelli's and Rue de la Course, all with 25-person rosters, and each sponsored by a different bar.
'I had to turn down eight new teams this year just to keep things manageable," says Gross, her eyes on the muddy playoffs. 'It's so popular now, you can go catch pickup kickball games all over the city," she adds.
There is also the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA). Many at KOCC's playoffs take pains to differentiate themselves from WAKA, a national league that existed six years prior to KOCC, though not in New Orleans. Today WAKA boasts 50,000 players in 27 states, including two separate New Orleans leagues: the eight-team Crescent and the 16-team Triumph. KOCC players characterize WAKA as overly structured, 'corporate," populated with yuppie bankers and lawyers and other professionals. Gross laughs that WAKA's corporate rules actually prevented its teams from playing an exhibition game with KOCC. Another player angrily claims that WAKA tried to sue KOCC over the indie league's use of the word 'kickball."
It's hard to tell what's true and what's rivalry-fueled rumor, with smack talk being such a big part of KOCC's game. Six beers into the playoffs, for instance, many KOCC players had much to say about the projected league champions, the undefeated Cobra Kai, a team that reportedly does not drink during competition " or perhaps just not enough. Cobra Kai's abstinence is viewed as cheating by some. 'Not drinking while playing kickball," says 25-year-old Jonathan Walker, aka Rambler of the team the 69ers, 'that's pretty much like taking steroids."
The gripes are all part of the fun though, and it's not scaring anyone away. To meet growing demand, Gross and the KOCC are planning a fall season. Gross explains that though KOCC's committee makes many of the league's decisions, each team's captains decide its players.
'There were people who didn't get on certain teams last year, but they came out this season and drank and partied with us at the games, so they'll get on this season."