ABOUT THE LEAGUE
The Chattanooga Co-ed Kickball League has 13 teams. They play games every Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. on the recreation fields behind Tyner Academy off Hickory Valley Road. The regular season ends this afternoon, and then a two-week tournament starts Aug. 26.
What started as a simple conversation among friends on Facebook about a lack of outdoor activities has turned into something much more.
Sure, the Chattanooga Co-ed Kickball League is about playing a classic kids game. But it also has become about changing the perception of the black community, grown-ups having fun and proving that people can get together peacefully.
"It's the funnest thing we've come up with, to be honest," said Olandis Bone, one of the league's organizers.
"We wanted to change the perception. There is a lot of violence in the urban neighborhoods, and we want to change the perception of how we are when we get together.
"We wanted to get men and women out ... and show these kids that adults can get together and have a good time, and there doesn't have to be a fight. We want to show them how to be adults."
According to Kendale Thomas, some friends on Facebook were discussing the desire to see old friends and classmates. Some lamented that adults didn't get outside to play anymore.
"Mark [Gladden] suggested a kickball tournament one Saturday," Thomas said.
Thomas said a date was picked back in April and "tons of people came out. We cooked out and met each other and fellowshipped and everybody wanted to know when we were playing again."
Gladden saw an opportunity and sprang into action. A member of several basketball and football leagues over the years, he knew he needed help, so he contacted Richard West with the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department.
West helped line up two Tyner Recreation fields and umpires, and he made sure everything was organized. Then Gladden contacted officials with a kickball league in Atlanta about rules.
Then Gladden and a couple of other people literally went door to door to Chattanooga businesses asking them if they were interested in putting together a team.
"We went from four to eight to 15 teams in three weeks," he said. "I knew they'd come to play with it because I'd seen it in Atlanta and the vibe around the country."
Gladden said he expects the league to be even bigger and better next year. He's also been contacted by leagues in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta about coming here for a tournament.
The teams have between 13 and 20 players each, and all teams must include both male and female players 25 or older. While the teams are predominately black, there are white players, too.
They have uniforms with names like Studio 14 Heat, The Firm, Just Kuts Razors, Team Rev, All Flavors and You Gonna Learn Today, a mostly female team. A team of firefighters and police officers goes by Kickin' Old School.
Games are played on two fields each Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. The rules are pretty much what you remember from PE class. Pegging is allowed, but head shots are not.
Most team members stay for the entire afternoon, watching the games and laughing with new and old friends. Sometimes kids will sell candy and drinks, and a local dance group held a fundraiser one afternoon.
"I laugh for four hours," Thomas said. "Everybody sticks around whether they are playing or not."
Gladden said the funniest thing for him is watching grown people trying to tag someone out and miss.
"The best part to me, though is seeing a bunch of black people coming together on a Sunday and having fun," he said. "There is no police, no drama and no problems."
Co-organizer Eric Roberson said the ripple effect of the league has been tremendous.
"It means a lot more than just kickball," he said. "It brings the community together. It brings a lot of spectators. This entire city comes together, and they laugh and they enjoy themselves. I think this is going to be something seriously major for people."
Bone said the league has spawned pool parties, barbecues and several meet-and-greets among people who would not normally talk to each other. He said a group of about 100 league members and their families are planning a bus trip to a water park.
"It's like a big family reunion," he said. "It's a mixture of different worlds. You've got people who might not be seen together in the same facility fellowshipping.
"It's also super fun. You see grown-ups running around the bases with Kool-Aid smiles on their faces."