‘Picnic sports’ grow up in Western Pa. |

‘Picnic sports’ grow up in Western Pa.

Sitting on a grassy bank next to a South Side ball field, Kelly Ogrodnik warmed up with her team.

But instead of tossing baseballs or softballs, the teammates sipped beer and joked with each other, talking strategy for the upcoming game.

Welcome to kickball — a mix of competitiveness, fun, socializing, exercise and beer.

“We’re all here to have fun. There’s no ‘not being good enough,'” said Ogrodnik, 27, of Wilkinsburg, the team captain. “Everyone here is very social.”

Ogrodnik’s team plays in the Pittsburgh Sports League, which this year is on pace to break participation records, thanks in part to the rising popularity of kickball.

“Kickball is a big picnic sport. People come to hang out, grill, bring their families and goof off,” said Becky Reitmeyer, 27, director of the Pittsburgh Sports League, which organizes activities including softball, kickball and dodgeball.

The Pittsburgh Sports League had a record 9,300 participants in 2006 for all sports, and it’s on pace to break that record this year, with 8,150 participants so far.

The growing popularity of kickball, which had 1,260 players last year, forced the league to organize three seasons. The first two attracted 1,097 players.

“I think there’s a silly element to it. It’s not difficult, everyone’s played it before and it’s a way to be social and be active. And there’s no equipment. Most people have only played in gym class, so it’s not as intimidating,” Reitmeyer said.

League teams can field 10 players, four of whom must be women. That gives most teams gender balance.

“Most of us on our team, we work together,” said Lee Melani, 25, of Bloomfield, who works for Nationwide. “It’s fun to do and it gets you out on a Monday. But you still want to win.”

Aimee Kimball, 29, of Shadyside, said she was recruited to play because her team needed athletic girls. She plays soccer, basketball and dodgeball.

“They recognized my talent,” she said, laughing. “I played because I was on a soccer team. Soccer is more exercise, but kickball is more fun and laid back. It’s competitive, but in a fun way.”

Kickball is gaining traction nationwide, said Tiffany Ficklin, director of communications for the World Adult Kickball Association, or WAKA.

WAKA is a for-profit company based on the business of kickball. The company started 10 years and WAKA leagues now stretch across 25 states with more than 1,400 teams, said Ficklin, who plays on a team.

She said popularity has soared in large cities with high populations of young people such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York and Phoenix.

“People are always amused when I tell them I work for a kickball company,” said Ficklin, 32, of Albuquerque, N.M. “But all it takes is getting that big, red ball in your hands and it whisks you back to fifth grade. We just help them get started.”

Most kickball leagues describe themselves as a sports and social organization and an open air alternative to dating sites, like . Teams often go to bars together after a game.

“I’m not from Pittsburgh. I’m from Rochester. I learned about kickball here through the Notre Dame alumni club,” said Mike Ryan, 24, of the South Side, who works for Westinghouse and signed up, in part, to meet people. He also plays softball.

“Kickball is something everyone can do,” he said. “For softball, you need a glove and a bat. Here, you just show up with your shoes on.”

Softball still gets about double the number of players in the Pittsburgh Sports League’s numbers.

“It does surprise me that kickball is so popular,” said Ronald Dick, assistant professor of sports marketing at Duquesne University. “I think kickball may be a fad.

“Softball has withstood the test of time. But kickball is simple, inexpensive and can be played in the inner-city or suburbs.”

Whether kickball is a fad or the new American pastime doesn’t matter to the young adults playing.

“I haven’t played since third grade, but it’s fun,” said Michelle Jackson, 25, of Dormont, who was playing right field in her second game. “All we do is work. This gives us something else to do.

“Besides, we won our first game.”


Breakout statistics for kickball and softball participants from the Pittsburgh Sports League:


Spring kickball = 272Summer kickball = 468Fall kickball = 432

Total 2005 kickball = 1,172

Spring softball = 294Summer softball = 1,025Fall softball = 702

Total 2005 softball = 2,021

Estimated total for all leagues: 6,700


Spring kickball = 396Summer kickball = 432Fall kickball = 432

Total 2006 kickball = 1,260

Spring softball = 510Summer softball = 1,116Fall softball = 756

Total 2006 softball = 2,382

Estimated total for all leagues: 9,300


Spring kickball = 432Summer kickball = 665Fall kickball = to be determined

Total 2007 kickball = to be determined (1,097 so far)

Spring softball = 684Summer softball = 1,386Fall softball = TBD

Total 2007 softball = TBD (2,070 so far)

Estimated total for all leagues: 8,150 so far

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.