The Fascinating History of Dodgeball

By | March 12, 2019

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A player clutches a ball while dodging three others at the Elite Dodgeball National Championships at Boston University on Aug. 17, 2017. (Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Remember dodgeball? That dreaded game from elementary school gym class? Today, the sport has been banned in many public schools because the entire game is literally designed to allow the intimidating athletic kids to pick on the weak, nerdy kids in a gymnasium-set survival of the fittest battle. While scenes of cowering book-worms being pelted with rubber balls hurled by muscle-bound jocks are common sitcom and movie tropes, the history of the sport of dodgeball shows us that the game was really created to weed out the weak links. Let’s look at the fascinating and sometimes-gruesome history of dodgeball. 

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An African War Game

More than two centuries ago, a dodgeball-like game was being played in Africa, but it was even more brutal than the dodgeball that was played in middle school! Those reddish, rubber balls were not used. Instead, the players threw large stones at each other. The goal was to injure an opponent with a thrown rock and then finish him off with more stones after he was down. The fallen player’s teammates had to protect him while fending off the attack and launching a counter-attack. Yes, players died playing this form of African dodgeball, but that was the point of the game. It was used as a form of training or preparation for battle. First, throwing large rocks is a good workout. Second, it helps identify the weaker members of the tribe. Lastly, it was a good bonding experience that encouraged team work.