Gaga ball pits players of all ages on level playing field
Madison school students are "gaga" for gaga ball. The Wheaton, Illinois, students crowd around the game at recess, cheering on the players and waiting for their turn.
Gaga is not a new game, but recently, it has become very popular. Some call it a gentle form of dodgeball, played with one foam ball. Players do not need to be strong athletes to do well. “It puts everybody on an even playing field," Madison physical education teacher Joe Cortesi says.
Gaga ball is believed to have come from Israel. Located in the Middle East, on the continent of Asia, Israel is a country of about 8 million people.
Gaga means “touch, touch” in Hebrew, the national language of Israel. It has been played in the United States for about 40 years.
A Touching Start
The game is played inside a hexagonal or octagonal pit. The pit is up to 25 feet wide with walls only about 30 inches high. The surface must be flat.
The number of players does not matter. Everybody starts with one hand touching a wall. The ball is then dropped in the center. Players slap the ball and try to hit the other players below the knee to get them out. The last player left in the pit wins.
There are more rules. Players cannot hold or throw the ball, and if someone hits the ball out of the pit, it has to touch another player first. Otherwise, they are out. If someone who is already out catches that ball, he or she is back in.
“It’s kinda like dodgeball. I like gaga ball a lot better,” says Madison fifth-grader Rian Klabunde. “I just feel like it’s not that competitive, and it’s really just a fun way to hang out."
The rules, soft ball and small space make the sport safe and easy to play.
Game Scores With Kids, Adults
Cortesi, the physical education teacher, saw students playing gaga ball at another school. He noticed how much they liked it, and raised money to get Madison a gaga pit too. Parents and students helped him build the first pit.
The pit was so popular that Cortesi built another one. "It’s pretty cool when you see middle schoolers and high schoolers coming over to play together after school,” he says.
Illinois dad Cliff Silverman played gaga at a father-daughter camp in 2010. He saw how much the girls and dads liked it. He began making gear for the sport and now has a business selling it on the Internet.
When he first started selling his gaga gear, very few people knew what the game was. "I had to get people in the pit and teach them," Silverman says.
Players may come home with scrapes, but there are no big dangers from gaga. Illinois father Dan Israelite says scrapes have given his sons rough hands. "They can play for hours and hours. It’s amazing how popular it is and how it stays this way."