Sunday, 23 February 2014

My Dark Days of Dodgeball: Or How I was Forced to Learn a Lesson in Congeniality

Besides storytelling, strong female badasses and videogames, there is probably nothing I'm more passionate about in my simple simple life than Dodgeball, the glorious sport of "violence, exclusion and degradation," made famous and rules defined by the exquisite Dodgeball: An Underdog Story. It's a sport which defined key character building moments of my last decade and led to my one and only concussion.

Now before you go thinking this is my spirited pledge for turning Dodgeball into an Olympic sport, you should grab the kleenex, because this is rather, a very tragic confession of my descent into disgrace and depravity. And to all that have been hurt along the way, my deepest apologies...

The narrative of my connection to dodgeball is a long and storied one. It all began almost a decade ago when I captained a team of underdog artistic oddballs assembled from my Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson U. We academic wannabe athletes called ourselves Dodging For Columbine and we were as terrible as you could imagine. We were mostly fat or scrawny, some with glasses, and all who threw like girls, except the girls themselves, who were mostly lesbian cannons that should be playing major league baseball.

Our team sucked but at least we were clever.  
We competed against undergrad jock douchebags, all of whom were better than us in most every way. And no team was better looking, more athletic and more douchey than Natural Selection, a cartoon squadron of mega-hot jock bullies who stepped right out of my nightmare wet dreams to antagonize us on the court. But these were villains you loved to hate so hard it was like the living inspiration for Ben Stiller and his Purple Copras.

Aptly named in every sense.
But I must give Natural Selection credit for fueling a fire I never knew I had inside. I’d never played a team sport in my life (unless you count Reaching for the Top), but thanks to their routine, skin-thickening decimations, I learned that while I may not ever be able to throw like a man or a lesbian, but I can dodge, I can strategize, I can survive a dodge-ball catalyzed concussion, I can sure as hell shit-talk like the best of redneck trash, and well, I can also lead. 

We meagre documentarians went from wanting to change the world by finding the cinematic cure to world hunger to having a taste for human bloodshed. After finally learning how to dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge, we rose up to challenge even Natural Selection a few times (though we never won). And we were once put on probation when a fistfight broke out between out two teams. I kid not, and I realize that this memory should not be fondly remembered, even if it is.

Now fast forward a few years to the Gay Ball Society and the first ever Toronto-set LGBT dodge-ball league. At long last a place where you could meet fellow gays while playing the greatest sport known to man.

We took the fun out of dodgeball!
During the first year, I captained a team called “Cherry Poppers”. Well actually, I should say, I became the captain after I helped orchestrate a mutiny when I realized the first captain wasn’t intense or competitive enough to lead us to victory. The rest of the team seemed to agree, and quickly, week to week we became the team to beat. I had no delusions of being the best or even close to the best player on the team. We were stacked with power cannons and strategic snipers that already gave us an edge. But those like me, who weren’t the most athletic were game and motivated to perfect our throwing, dodging and catching until we were feral animals that dined on bruises, broken egos and bone marrow.

There's no I in team, but there is an I in win.
We left many teams in our dust as we outplayed, outwitted and – forgive this unnecessary Survivor reference – outlasted our way to the top and won the first ever Gay Ball Society championship. The fact that nobody liked our team and that, as one witness recounted, we “took the fun out of dodgeball” didn’t matter, right? Because obviously they were jealous they weren’t on the winning team.

We savored victory and let the cockiness go to our heads. Or at least I did, moving into the second year and a brand new team. I was captain again – this time fairly and squarely – and our team was christened “Red Hot Chili Peckers”. Similarly to last team we had a nice balance of cannons and snipers, and I quickly instructed the noobs on how to be catchers, collectors or dodgers if they couldn't throw. And once again, we were the team to beat and the team to hate.

Take that, Natural Selection!
That is until complaints that we were mean and intense on the court started to come in. I was given warnings to dial it back a notch, because other more sensitive players teams weren’t as competitive and therefore weren’t having fun when they had to play against us. A little birdie from another team told me the one thing our team is missing is a thing called "poise". 

It’s not that I ignored these amber alerts, it’s just I preferred to win, and aggressive passion is just part of my nature right? I can’t be blamed for something I can’t control. Riiiigggghhhhttt?! 

Little did I know, I was fastly becoming this guy.
Alas, after seemingly endless victories, we finally lost our composure during a key play-off game, and just like that we were finished. We came in 7th overall while inspiring a Cinderella Story we'd never live down. The same team, which ironically tried to teach me P is for Poise. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. But it’s okay right, it’s just about having fun, and I’d already won (my first ever) first place ribbon last year.  I didn’t need victory!

But then the administrators of the league pulled me aside after the final game and informed me I would NOT BE ALLOWED TO CAPTAIN in the following year. Why you ask? 

Because apparently I’m “too intense, too competitive" … and perhaps, worst of all, I have a reputation for running my team “like a slavedriver”. A flurry of emotions consumed me: Fury. Guilt. BETRAYAL, from my own people. My gay tribe had rejected me. And no amount of blasting “Let it Go” could make the pain go away. 

But really, me: a Slave-driver?! I sent long-winded inspirational slash instructional emails to my loyal teammates. I encouraged the weak links lesser-skilled players to improve their game. I freaking designed a GODDAMN LOGO FOR OUR TEAM SHIRTS. And this captain was a SLAVE-DRIVER?!

I was about to start a witch-hunt when a wise friend told me, "I’m pretty sure that’s what Hitler said before the whole holocaust thing"

And suddenly it dawned me.

Maybe I did take the spirit of competition a touch too far. Maybe I was a fascist son of a bitch. Maybe I did drop one too many F-bomb-laden shit-talking attacks. 

Dare I say it, but had I, Bryce Sage, former fat-geek underdog morphed into one of the extreme supervillains I used to dread? Forgive my hyperbolizing, but yes, I think I had. 

After being summarily demoted, rank pulled and forced to face my shame head-on, I’m now playing as a civilian on two different teams, in two different leagues one gay and one straight. And I’m doing everything in my power to manage my anger and my liberal dropping of F-bombs and C-units.

My new life goal for 2014.
I’m ready and raring to embrace this whole “poise” thing, too, however fake it seems at first, and win the coveted “Miss Congeniality” sash by end of season. I’ve promised I’ll wear an evening gown if I’m actually crowned, which I know is competitive bribery and probably goes against the definition of congeniality. But c’mon. Baby steps.