Whirling Dervishes

Posted on December 13, 2012

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What activity combines the rules and play of lacrosse with the violent collisions of motorized vehicles? If you, like myself, were pondering this question and came across the sport (although I guess it fits only the loosest definition of “sport”) of Whirlyball, your next question could only be, “When can I sign up?”

So it was with my next foray into social gaming leagues after my team’s less-than-stellar season of glow-in-the-dark volleyball (I believe we went 5-17). Mike, my buddy from work, and I signed up for the league that pitted our five tiny bumper carts against five other tiny carts in a competition that separated the men from the boys from the men who still wanted to be boys.

The field of battle.

The field of battle.

Surprisingly, the most difficult part of Whirlyball isn’t driving — although that does require some finesse. Instead of a steering wheel, each car is controlled by a crank in the front attached to the forward wheel of the car. From what I’ve learned over the past five weeks, holding the crank nearest to you causes the car to go forward. But usually the best method of direction is just kind of churning the crank around until your car happens to go in the direction you actually want, and then leaving the crank there.

The most difficult part of Whirlyball is scoring, a goal I have yet to lay claim to myself. Scoring in the game consists of holding the whiffle ball in your basket — a plastic half-cesta, half-lacrosse-net contraption most people have seen during lawn games — and hurling it at a small opening in a basketball backboard. In a perfect world, a pro Whirlyball player would bring his or her own basket to matches. But this is not a perfect world. So the members of team Auto Erotic Ass-kicks-iation (one of my prouder naming endeavors) have to rely on the stock baskets, each of which has been bent and misshapen so many times that the ball often will get stuck in them. And the ball itself, the meat in countless collision sandwiches, cannot be relied upon to fly in any sort of reliable trajectory. So the mangled baskets, combined with the smashed ball, do not for an exact science make. I’m still waiting for my one shot at sweet greatness.

But of course getting to the goal requires some skillful passing. I am a skillful passer. Some foolish newbies will get the ball at one end of the court and attempt to lob it to waiting teammates at the other end. But, nine times out of ten, the ball will hit the rafters in the ceiling and come straight back down. Dolts. The best passes are short to mid-range line drives to your teammate or, for the Whirlyball initiated, a bounce pass on the floor that perfectly slides into the other basket.

While you’re driving down the court, the other team will try to block your progress. Like all organized sports, there are rules. But, like the most intense organized sports, the rules are rarely enforced. Intentional head-on collisions are not allowed. Fair enough. Once, I was driving neck-and-neck with an enemy ball carrier. In order to stifle his progress, I took a sharp turn and sent him into the sideboards.

“Hey man, you can’t do that,” he whined. “That’s intentional ramming!”

“You know we’re in bumper cars?” I replied, repressing the urge to tell him to mention to his mommy. There’s mean-spirited hitting, and there’s using the bumper cars what they’re for. And there’s also little ninnies. After the game (which they won) he advised me to check my rule book next time.

Going into the finals next week, our team is 10th out of 16 teams, and we’re hoping to pull a few more victories out. If not, I’ve already signed on for next season. We’re going to try to keep the team together — as far as I know, none of our contracts are up and we haven’t hit the salary cap. I can already feel the heat of competition.

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Posted in: Lakeview