AP NEWS

Ash-West Kids Going GaGa for This Game

March 6, 2019
Seventh-graders give GaGa ball a try at Overlook Middle School on Tuesday. It's like dodgeball except you have to hit, not throw, the ball. Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Stephen Landry

slandry@sentinel andenterprise.com

ASHBURNHAM -- Imagine the game of dodgeball played in an inflatable 20-by-20 foot arena in which every player is out for him- or herself, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what the sport of GaGa Ball is like.

The simple game is a staple in summer camps across the nation, but many are still unfamiliar with the fast-paced, elimination sport, according to Peter Stahlbrand, a director at the Athol Area YMCA’s Camp Wiyaka.

Stahlbrand brought his GaGa court to the Overlook Middle School on Tuesday and gave students the chance to experience the game for themselves.

“The goal is for you to be the last person standing and get everybody out, but you don’t pick up the ball and throw it -- it’s more like volleyball or tennis in that it’s fluid, and when the ball comes to you you have to hit it,” Stahlbrand explained. A player is out of the game if he or she is struck by a ball below the knee, he said. “If the ball hits you in the head, you’re fine. If the ball hits you anywhere above the knee, you keep playing.”

“It’s a very a fun game that’s challenging and there’s so many different ways to play, that it makes it very interesting,” said Anistasia Mechlin, 12. “It’s very competitive (but) simple to understand, so you could teach it to all ages.”

There is no limit to the number of players, as long as they can all fit within the arena, which is usually a circle or an octagon. As you can imagine, it’s a fast game.

“No matter how many people you start with, the rounds usually don’t last more than five minutes,” Stahlbrand said.

“All my friends love to play it,” said Cathal Wells, 12, who said he had played the game a few years ago while attending Nature’s Classroom. He said the sport required stamina and quick reflexes.

In addition to physical fitness, the game is also a test of a player’s honesty, according to Stahbrand, who said participants are required to call themselves out if they are touched by a ball.

“The kids see that it’s possible to have a game that’s really fun and involves no fighting if everyone is doing their part,” Stahlbrand said. “So even though it’s an individual sport, it kind of takes everybody cooperating and being honest for it to go well.”

As much fun as Ga Ga Ball is to play, Stahlbrand said it’s just as enjoyable as a spectator sport.

“Usually when kids get out, they just really enjoy watching the game,” Stahlbrand said.

Stahlbrand said the game, which originated in Israel, was brought to the U.S. by international exchange camp counselors, and that presently most summer camps play some form of the game. He said GaGa Ball was becoming increasingly popular in schools across New England, as students return to class and tell others about the exciting game they had played during vacation.

“It’s an easy game (to set up) because you can just put up a couple two-by-fours on the ground and teach the game,” Stahlbrand said. “It doesn’t take a lot to build your own court.”

Follow Landry on Twitter @Landry17Stephen