– By Chris Linnan –
Playing dodgeball is a rite of passage for the vast majority of American kids. Many of us played it during physical education (PE) class at some point in our lives, most likely in high school. Those of us who especially enjoyed it played it recreationally as well, since most schools do not sponsor varsity teams for reasons unknown to this author. In my experience, it was one of the sports students looked most forward to in PE class. Originally, when I arrived in Palangkaraya, Indonesia, I had planned to introduce American football to my students, but I was afraid that the very physical nature of the sport and the complicated rules might prove challenging. Since most of my students are already familiar with basketball, and there are no baseball bats or balls to be found on the island of Kalimantan, we settled on playing dodgeball together instead. With the support and blessing of my school, SMAN 2 in Palangkaraya, we decided that we should try to introduce it in February.
The rules of dodgeball are relatively simple as two teams are divided by a line, which they cannot cross. The teams then try to eliminate members of the opposing squad by throwing balls at them. If the ball hits a player and he does not catch it before it falls to the ground, he is out. If he catches it, the player who threw the ball is out, and one of the catcher’s teammates, who is already eliminated can reenter the game. The game continues until one team has zero players left, which makes them the losing team.
At SMAN 2, like most Indonesian schools, students wear uniforms which make sports difficult unless they are wearing their PE attire, which typically happens on Fridays. Thus, the first class I introduced dodgeball to was my fellow co-teacher Ibu Leli Yusvita’s XI-9 class[i] on a Friday. The class consisted of thirty students, whom we divided into two even teams. The first match was a true learning experience, but we had a great time. Initially, we used volleyballs in lieu of dodgeballs (which I could not find in Palangkaraya). The substitute “dodgeballs” worked surprisingly well. We started off only using a couple of volleyballs, but as the game progressed we eventually traded them for heavier red balls, which were fairly similar to traditional dodgeballs. Unfortunately, I did a poor job explaining the rules and quickly discovered that I had made the game needlessly complicated, especially by including the rule that if you catch a ball one of your already eliminated teammates may reenter the game. The only rule that I added was that if you hit someone from the other team in the head with a ball, you are automatically out because I wanted to ensure that my students did not remember Mr. Christopher as that evil bule (foreigner) who introduced a game where people threw balls at each other’s head. As the game progressed, some of the students watching from other classes were allowed to join and we provided several extra balls, which made for a much more frantic, yet more authentic version of American dodgeball. The students and I had a terrific time, even if there was still some confusion about the rules at the end of the game.
My first experience playing dodgeball with Indonesian students left me exhilarated, but it was a learning experience and I knew that the game could be improved. Luckily for me, another fellow English language teacher, Ibu Siti Juwariah was very enthusiastic about playing dodgeball, so we decided to try to play it with her X-3 Friday class as well. Initially, we had planned to play it the following week, but we were unsurprisingly forced to postpone our game due to musim hujan (rainy season). Luckily, the following Friday was a sunny day, which meant we could play. We used only volleyballs, which proved very effective, especially since we were playing on a relatively small court. This time we modified the game slightly by eliminating the rule that allows players to reenter the game. This made for a much smoother and free-flowing game, and while we still had hiccups, we had a blast. Both Ibu Siti and I joined the students, who took extreme pleasure in eliminating us. Frankly, I was a little afraid that dodgeball was something that would only appeal to American kids, but I was wrong as my Indonesian students proved to me as they had a fantastic time playing the game.
A major part of being a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) consists of serving as a cultural ambassador. I am blessed to live in a wonderful community and work at an incredible school, where people have been extraordinarily gracious and welcoming. During my time in Indonesia, I have so far participated in a traditional Dayak dance session, eaten countless unique and delicious Indonesian dishes, participated in Indonesian sports, etc. However, sometimes I am overwhelmed by SMAN’s generosity as I realize that I cannot hope to even begin to repay my caring community for all of its generosity. So, it is always a wonderful feeling when I am able to reciprocate a little of my hosts’ gracious hospitality. Playing dodgeball is a wonderful way to connect with your students and share a true American pastime with them, and it is an activity that I recommend to all current and future ETAs.
[i] In Indonesia high school students are sorted into classes by their specialization, which is either science, social studies, or language, and they take classes together with the same group of students, who share the same specialization. The Roman numeral indicates what grade they are in and the second number is for what class they are in.
About the author: Chris Linnan is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan. He graduated from Emory University in May 2014.