In 2014, Sam Hutter arrived at the University of Akron to study electrical engineering after graduating from Kent State University. She began organizing a dodgeball team on campus after having played for KSU during her undergraduate studies. “Me and a guy I met from Akron, Adam Pfeifer, we started the team together,” Hutter says. “I was very dead set on making a team at Akron because I wanted to play really bad.”
“I wasn’t really doing too much at Akron, I was just going to school and working,” says Pfeifer, an ex-player and current coach. “So it was something else to do [that led to] making new friends.”
The work they’ve done, and in some cases continue to do, paved the way to making Akron a competitive force in the world of collegiate dodgeball.
Establishing the team as an official student organization involved a mountain of formational work. Sam explains the process, saying, “You have to create a constitution, you have to give guidelines and rules for how your organization is run, and then if you do a sports or physical activity organization you do practices however many times a week.”
The school also requires the organization to document what they’re doing at practice and who is attending. Sam calls it the “athletic version of taking notes.”
“It took me three weeks to become fully established with the school, and four weeks from the semester starting to play in an actual tournament with a full roster. Well, almost a full roster,” Hutter says. According to her, the dodgeball team at Akron was the fastest established team in the history of the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association (NCDA). The NCDA is a nonprofit, student-run governing body of collegiate dodgeball responsible for setting the rules by which the game is played.
“Initially, recruiting wasn’t the easiest,” Pfeifer says. “We tried to reach out to people at the gym and stuff. Most of it actually came from us just inviting people we had classes with.”
Their determination paid off. At one point during an open gym recruitment session, Hutter remembers there were almost 100 people playing at once “wall to wall on both sides.”
They played their first tournament October of 2014, one month into the fall semester and two people short of a full roster, having only 13 players instead of the 15 required by the NCDA bylaws. It wasn’t long before they were playing with a full deck.
In 2016, their second full season of play, UA won the Ohio Dodgeball Cup, a victory usually only obtained by tenured teams, according to another ex-player ,current coach , and Director of the Rules Committee for the NCDA Colby Briceland.
“Akron has developed a serious respected reputation,” Hutter says.
Briceland agrees.“We’re known as being one of the more hard-fighting teams,” he says. “Even when we didn’t have as much skill or depth as other rosters did we would always put on a show, make the matches way closer than they should have been, because we were a scrappy team.”
Their reputation isn’t the only thing that’s grown in the years since the team’s formation.
“With Akron being a commuter school, recruiting and retention was more difficult than a lot of schools,” Hutter says. “Our roster changed a lot because we had a lot of people that were transferring to other schools, but before I graduated we had a more set roster, and we were really able to have a solid core of ten people. I watched all of their skills build up, and the team really became coherent, and we were really recognized as a true competitive team.”
Training has improved as well, with upgraded strategy and technique when educating new recruits.
“Originally, we had a bunch of guys who knew they could throw,” Pfeifer says. “They were previous baseball players or athletes in another sport, and over the years we learned that we can’t just go out there and win based on [someone’s ability to throw].”
Akron was being outfoxed by more experienced teams, but Hutter’s previous connection to the Kent State dodgeball team was helpful when it came time to refine Akron’s playing style.
“Every now and then she would get some of her Kent friends to come help us learn the skills that they’d already known for a decade,” Briceland says. “We were fortunate enough to be close to Kent’s team, and they were able to help us with that learning curve.”
Briceland says that it took the original team a little more time to figure out the nuances to the game, but that newer recruits don’t take long picking up the techniques required for victory.
Hutter is hopeful about the dodgeball team’s potential for a bright future. She says, “I feel like they’re moving towards being a serious competitive sport, and I feel like eventually, hopefully, dodgeball will become a varsity sport in Akron.”
Derek Kreider is a freelance writer and the Devil Strip’s distribution manager.
Photos from The University of Akron Dodgeball team. Used with permission from Sam Hutter.
You just read this article for free. The good news is that we’re committed to never putting our content behind a paywall. We want our readers to be able to continue reading for free because we believe everyone should have access to quality journalism.
But here’s the catch: Our work is not free to produce. If you can afford to contribute by joining our co-op and becoming a member, we need your support for the news we offer to remain free and equitable. Plus, we think you’ll love being able to say, “I’m part-owner of a magazine.”
We want all Akronites, our neighboring suburbanites, and our beloved expats to have the opportunity to learn what’s happening here, and to read articles written by contributors whose love for Akron shines through their work. So here’s what we’re asking: Please join us for as little as $1/month in becoming a member. When you click the red button below, you help keep our content free for thousands of readers who might not otherwise be able to access our stories.