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Underdog team wins dodgeball tournament

Saturday, August 1, 2009 | 6:37 p.m. CDT; updated 11:48 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 1, 2009
Kyle Leftwich, playing for the MACatrons, races for the ball during the title game of the Show-Me State Games junior high dodgeball competition. The MACatrons won 2-of-3 games to capture the gold medal.

COLUMBIA — On a rainy day, recess is held indoors. So on a rainy Saturday morning in Columbia, the dodgeball games were inside.

But this was not recreational dodgeball, even for the only team in the Show-Me State Game's dodgeball competition that still has a recess to play dodgeball. While teams of 20-somethings did battle in the classic schoolyard game at the MAC recreational complex, a team called the MACatrons, comprised of sixth and seventh graders from Columbia, held its own among the bigger, stronger and older teams, and won its age group, the junior high division, against all expectations.

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The MACatrons are a hodgepodge group of kids, brought together by Chris Viers, the soccer director at Wilson's Total Fitness, which owns the MAC. Viers sent an e-mail out to parents of MAC indoor soccer players, looking to comprise a dodgeball team for the Show-Me State Games.

"They picked out the sucker parents. That or we had the only kids left in town on summer break," Ken Kovarick, father of MACatron player Jacob Kovarik, said.

There were two teams in the junior high bracket of the dodgeball tournament, and while that age group was supposed to be fair — especially with the other option being competing against full-grown men — the MACatrons had the chips stacked against them early.

The MACatrons' main competition, a team called Optimus Prime, was comprised of incoming high school freshmen from Chillicothe. The 12- and 13-year-old members of the MACatrons, none of which stood taller 5 feet 5 inches, appeared to stand no chance.

The teams met in the first round of the round-robin tournament. The Optimus Prime players seemed confident they could handle the smaller MACatrons, and the MACatrons displayed the confidence of youthful ignorance, something had to give.

The Show-Me State Game's dodgeball format is different than the schoolyard rules typically associated with the game. The "elimination rules" as they are called, dictate the match-ups to be split into three separate, 3 minute, games. Once a player is out, they cannot re-enter the game unless a timeout is called, head-shots are legal, and whoever has the most players left in play when the buzzer sounds at the end of the game wins.

The MACatrons won the first game against Optimus Prime, catching nearly every ball the soon-to-be high schoolers could sling their way. The second and third games were different stories, as Optimus Prime, cruised past the MACatrons.

But the MACatrons were not phased by losing to their closest competition. They moved on and faced an adult team from Elsbury, the two-time champions of a 36-team league in Lake St. Louis. The MACatrons lost all three games, and the throws of the adults were strong enough to knock down the kids and leave large welts in the process.

Next up: the Rowdy Roosters, a group of mid-20 year-olds from Columbia. Before the game, captain Casey Scott described how they would beat the team that was half their size and half their age.

"We're going to run around and look like we know what we're doing," Scott said. "But seriously, we're going to kick their butt."

The MACatrons were unaware they were supposed to be demoralized by their beat-down the game before. They were having too much fun to notice they were losing.

Perhaps their frivolity helped the MACatrons squeak out a victory against the Rowdy Roosters. Despite being diminutive in size, making their throws almost futile, as they wouldn't reach their target with any velocity, the MACatrons were spry. This allowed them to jump out of the way; at one point MACatrons' member Azhante Bright avoided five simultaneously thrown balls, weaving and dodging like Keanu Reaves in "The Matrix."

With that elusiveness going for them, the MACatrons found their winning formula: do nothing. They would take the dodgeball and kneel in the corner, covering their entire torso with the ball. The area the MACatrons could be hit was nearly zero, and they would defect incoming throws with the ball. Every few throws, a MACatron player would drop their ball, and catch an incoming throw, eliminating the opposing player.

"If you guys had coaches, that would be all-star coaching," Ken Kovarick said to his son.

Because there were only two teams in the junior high bracket, the championship game would be settled by a rematch between Optimus Prime and the MACatrons. Optimus Prime had been practicing for this tournament since March. The only thing the MACatrons had prepared was their name, a hybrid of their indoor soccer arena and a Transformer, intent on taking down Optimus Prime.

Game 1 was a stalemate for the first minute, and the MACatrons went into turtle mode. Optimus Prime's lack of tactic showed, and the MACatrons caught the throws of the Optimus Prime players, winning the first game.

Optimus Prime came back with a win, using their strength advantage to pelt the stereotypical weaker kids. Even in a dodgeball tournament, the vicious nature of the game still protrudes.

But for Game 3, the weaker kids had the element of strategy on their hands.

The gold medal would be decided by one game. Only three minutes for the underdogs to defeat the heavy favorites. The MACatrons stayed out of the corners and threw sparingly. In all of the MACatrons' games, they only knocked out four players by way of a throw. So the MACatrons would roll the silver Mikasa official dodgeball to their opponents, hoping to knock them out by catching their return throws. The strategy worked to perfection. With a minute left, and only five players still standing on each team, the MACatrons stalled the game, and Optimus Prime started playing sloppy.

As the soon-to-be high schoolers knocked out two junior high schoolers with throws, they also had three of their throws caught. A stalemate ensued, and the MACatrons went into the turtle stance. The final two players for Optimus Prime attempted to power their throws through the torsos of their opponents, but to no avail. With 13.7 seconds left, Optimus Prime head coach Don Metry called a time out.

Metry urged his players to throw two balls at one player, simultaneously. Against larger opponents, it was a fail-safe plan. Against the cagey MACatrons, the throws had to be deftly accurate.

Shannon Hamilton and Justin Metry were the final two players for Optimus Prime. They immediately fired two throws, both missed the smallest player on the team, Stephen Lockett. As the final few seconds ticked off the clock, Metry pitched a rocket made of rubber. It hit the ball Lockett was holding, popping it free: a knockout.

Optimus Prime thought they had tied the game, but the throw had come after the clock read 0:00. Referee Nick Shatro, who was also running the clock waived off the final knockout of the game. Optimus Prime voiced their displeasure with the call, but the underdog, the MACatrons, had won the gold medal and doubled their tournament win total in the process.

The crowd that had formed, made up of other teams cheered for the young members of team MACatron, the kids that won a kid's game that had turned mainstream.

"Always believe, don't ever give up," said team member Kyle Leftwich, as the MACatrons received their gold medals.

Their goal was to come and have fun, and they did. Winning was an added bonus. The triumph of the moment was best summed up by player Jacob Kovarik.

"I'm going to Disneyworld!"


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