Gaming the Summer

Non-traditional athletic leagues offer a fun way for adults to stay active in Woodbury.

Ah, the games of summer: Polesh...ladder golf...KanJam? Along with traditional summer games such as softball and kickball, those are some of the relatively new competitive games played in the city of Woodbury Parks and Recreation adult yard games league, created in 2010 by recreation manager Reed Smidt. He believes the league may have been the first of its kind anywhere.

 Smidt created the yard games league as a way to “get the non-athlete involved and provide an opportunity for adults who didn’t want to play the traditional, competitive sports.” Initially, Smidt wasn’t sure his idea would catch on, but “the league has been a huge success,” he says. “Players love the fun, relaxed environment and it is a very social league—a great way to meet new people and make new friends. We actually have had a couple of people meet through the league and eventually get married. Pretty cool.”

The yard games league is not suited for hard-core athletic types who need to express a burning desire to win. These lawn games are suitable for playing with a beer can in one hand, which some players do. Some more traditional, leisurely games like bocce ball and bean-bag toss are also included.

Most of the new games are combinations or variations on traditional activities. Polesh involves throwing a flying disc a short distance to knock a bottle off a 4-foot pole. In ladder golf, one flips two golf balls connected with string toward the rungs of a 4-foot ladder.

The long-term effects of a back injury limit the athletic endeavors of Woodbury resident Allison Ellingson. So, she and her husband, Dean Ellingson, compete in the yard games league, which Dean finds “more interesting than traditional yard games.” His favorite is KanJam, which involves trying to deflect a flying disc through a slot in a half barrel. The game was invented in the 1980s on the East Coast, but its popularity spread across the country, partly due to its relaxed pace. The Ellingsons, who moved to Woodbury four years ago, have also found the lawn game league a way to meet “some interesting people,” he says.

Two other non-traditional sports that have become among the most popular on the Woodbury summer schedule are adult kickball and five-versus-five soccer. St. Paul Park resident Greg Jahner has been playing adult kickball in Woodbury since 2005—the Woodbury league started in 2010.  At age 34, his knees can no longer handle the stress of playing soccer, but he finds kickball a gentler “combination of soccer and baseball.” With eight to 10 members on the co-ed teams, the game has become more competitive over the years, but is still relaxed fun that lends itself to socializing between games of a double header, Jahner says.

Different kickball leagues have different rules, choosing between fast or slow-pitch formats, and whether or not to allow bunting. Jahner says that another advantage of the game for busy adults is that it doesn’t take as long as softball (only 50 to 55 minutes to finish a game).

Eight-versus-eight soccer has been on the Woodbury summer schedule since 2012. “The fall soccer league was doing really well, so we decided to get something going in the summer,” Smidt says. Since there are so many other soccer leagues going on during the summer, Smidt chose the eight-versus-eight format to make it easier for participants to put together teams. The fact that it requires a smaller field—70 by 50 feet—also makes it easier to schedule on the city’s busy summer fields.

Jason Barrientes of Cottage Grove grew up playing soccer and, at age 36, “would play every night if I could.” He competes in eight-versus-eight soccer leagues in the fall and winter, and in Woodbury’s eight-versus-eight summer league. Barrientes enjoys the smaller-team format, which is played on a smaller field (25 yards wide and 40 yards long). Playing on the smaller field “doesn’t seem like it would involve much running, but you do get a good workout,” he says. On the shorter field, it’s easier for the goalie to leave the net and join the offensive play, which is another, non-traditional twist Barrientes enjoys.

Smidt says it’s a good bet that the lawn games league will continue growing in the coming summers, since the leisurely pace and less strenuous activities are well-suited to aging bodies.