Here's a feature I wrote for the Delta Optimist a few years ago reporting on the highly successful Spongeball Tournament held each year on New Year's weekend in Ladner. This year (2011) the eighth annual Spongeball Madness tourney will be held Dec 31- Jan 1.
Spongeball Madness a hit in Ladner
More than 250 dedicated slo-pitch aficionados and a dozen national level umpires swarmed Ladner ball fields for the Fifth Annual Spongeball Madness Tournament.
Twenty-four adult coed teams took part in the two-day ball tourney which lasted from sunrise to sundown -- utilizing eight different ball diamonds throughout Ladner.
"My team has played the Spongeball tourney every year since its inception," claims Snowballers coach Jen Brodie. "It's a great opportunity to reunite with teammates, get some fresh air and exercise and it's always a belly full of laughs. And for us, its a nice break from the competitiveness of the regular season."
The rules of the game are the same as slo-pitch but that's where any similarity to the summer game ends. The nature of the spongeball makes the game unique if not bizarre. The ball itself is like a cross between a lacrosse ball and a Nerf ball and it's virtually impossible to predict its erratic behavior.
"The elastic properties of the ball are what provides the laughs," explains organizer Rusty Monger. "The ball temporarily deforms under impact. You never know what that ball is going to do; it's difficult to hit, difficult to catch and sometimes even difficult to throw. Every batted or thrown ball is an adventure; you just never know what kind of funny bounce or hop to expect."
Participating teams play three preliminary games then are sorted into one of four different playoff divisions depending on their success in round robin play.
The tournament has grown in size since its inception in 2003. The first-year featured eight teams playing in six inches of snow. Last year, weather was more hospitable and players wore T-shirts and shorts, while two years ago the players endured mud and rain conditions which did nothing to dampen the spirit of the tournament.
For these dedicated ball players the season never ends. Most are true diehards, playing regular season and competitive tournaments in summer, a less strenuous fall ball season and a few participate in recreational Sunday winter league Whalley. Most greet the inclement weather with a shrug.
"Love of the game and the crazy fun factor far exceed the discomforts of the foul weather," laughs Brodie.
The Sponge Ball Tournament always fills up quickly. This year's schedule included two teams from Mission, another team from Bellingham and an array of local teams. The event also attracts a few top level teams such as the 2007 Provincial champion Roll 2.
"It all started years ago when an unorganized group of us used to get together every New Year's Day for a couple of hours of scrub, choosing up sides and playing just for sheer love of the game," added Monger. "Today, the action is a little more organized but the important ingredients of fun, laughter and camaraderie still exist."
Since its inception, The Landing Pub has offered the players a buffet breakfast and also supplied commemorative T-shirt prizes for the winning teams.
"You have to realize this is the Lower Mainland. If we were to sit around the house and wait for a sunny day to play ball we could be in for a long hibernation," jokes Monger.