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A Whole New League

Reliving the magic of kickball, that old schoolyard favorite, changed Tiffany Ficklin's life.
by Therese Droste

A Whole New League

Remember that game from grade-school recess--the one with the big red rubber ball? You'd give it your hardest kick, then dash off to circle the bases in triumph. The exhilaration that kickball brought you as a kid is what has hooked Tiffany Ficklin (and a rapidly growing number of adults nationwide) with a renewed love of the sport. "People hesitate when they first come on the field. Then they kick the ball, hear that magical poing, and are playing like they're back in fifth grade," she says. "It's contagious."

A CNN feature on the World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA) rehooked Ficklin, 30. That was 4 years ago, when the Albuquerque, New Mexico, mother of two was on maternity leave from her fund-raising job at a small private school. She'd begun to feel too detached from the outside world, and just couldn't handle the thought of sitting around and talking only about sleep schedules or diapers.

Seeing a bunch of grown-ups having so much fun inspired her to contact WAKA about holding a charity tournament for the school. Her event ultimately raised $8,000, but Ficklin got more than money out of it. She was bitten by the kickball bug, and started a league (WAKA's New Mexico Hot Air division). Soon after, WAKA offered her a job as its public relations coordinator, a position that keeps her on the move throughout the country, spreading her zeal for the sport. "It's like a religion," she says.

She's made lots of new friends--and rediscovered some old ones, too. "There's a guy on my team whom I've known since sixth grade," she says. "We probably played kickball back then, too."

Ficklin's team, the Dillycones, meets each Thursday on a field at the community center to compete with another local team. The rules are similar to those of baseball or softball (although the ball's rolled, not tossed), and the game lasts five innings or 45 minutes, whichever comes first.

Dressed in soccer-style shorts and shirts, the after-work crowd appears at first glance to be very, well, adult. But as soon as the game begins, that facade disappears and the atmosphere starts to resemble a noisy schoolyard.

"Sure, we're all friends, but once we're on the field, anything goes," Ficklin says. "We love to taunt the opposing team members, telling them things like they kick like their grannies."

Cheers erupt after each play, even for the clumsiest kick or the easiest out. The only drawback: "It always feels like it's over too fast--like recess always was," Ficklin laments.

She credits the sport with everything from spicing up her marriage (husband Tom is on the team, too) to boosting her self-confidence. And she's not the only one it has affected. "One of my daughter's first words," she says, "was 'kickball.'"

Based in Washington, DC Therese Droste writes about health, fitness, and careers.