Twenty-six competitive men’s and women’s teams from across the province converged on uOttawa’s Montpetit Fitness Centre this past weekend competing for a chance to qualify for 2024 National Dodgeball Championships in Richmond, B.C. from June 29 to July 1.

The weekend competition featured 16 men’s and 10 women’s teams vying for seven men’s or five women’s spots in the national championships this summer. Dodgeball Ontario hosted the 2024 Ontario Provincial Championships in Ottawa.

In Canada, there are two main forms of competitive dodgeball: foam and cloth, referring to the type of ball used. The Ottawa event was foam format.

The tournament also was held in Bianca Segatto’s final term as the president of Dodgeball Ontario, the sport’s main provincial organizing body.

“At this level, we’ve only been around about five years in Ontario,” Segatto said. “The pandemic was definitely a challenge and the return to sport and access to facilities and gyms has been really competitive.”

Competitive dodgeball is not the game often played in gym class. While the premise is the same — hitting as many opponents as possible by throwing a ball to eliminate them from play — the speed, style of play and strategy transforms the schoolyard game into a dynamic and contentious team sport on a volleyball-sized court.

“It’s a very fast-paced sport. These are athletes,” Segatto said. “They train like athletes.”

Many teams entered in the tournament had dedicated coaches, noted Segatto.

For Jennifer Gray, dodgeball is no ordinary pastime. She plays for Team Valkyrie, the defending women’s foam champions and one of three women’s qualifiers to the national championship. Team Valkyrie won the provincial championship again this year and will be off to B.C. this summer.

This year was also the third time Gray has been selected to represent Canada at the 2024 World Dodgeball Championships in Austria. 

“When I’m not playing dodgeball, I’m going to the gym,” Gray said. “I try to train at least five days a week.”

It’s really a labour of love for Gary and other competitors because the small size and the amateur status of competitive dodgeball in Ontario means players pay to travel to and participate in competitions.

Segatto disputes dodgeball’s reputation as a “bully sport.”

“We want to demonstrate the power and the beauty of the sport,” Segatto said. “We are actually a very inclusive sport — anyone can participate.”

Kevin Hsiao-Feng Wu competed with Team Fury after finishing second in last year’s provincials while qualifying to the national championship. This year, Team Fury finished as runners-up, falling for the second time in a row to the Toronto Mavericks Dodgeball Club but punching their ticket to Richmond.

On top of qualifying again to nationals, Wu has also been selected to represent Canada’s mixed foam team in Austria. 

Wu says dodgeball has something to offer for all players.

“Depending on your strengths and your physical abilities, there’s a lot of different ways you can contribute to your team that isn’t just throwing as hard as you can,” Wu said.

Gray’s Valkyrie teammate, Keitha Cowie, is the vice-president of Dodgeball Ontario. Cowie used to be an early-childhood educator with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and taught her students — children from kindergarten to the sixth grade — this version of dodgeball as a sport.

“I just think that there is more to it than meets the eye, and what we’re used to seeing with those rubber balls that left everybody with welts,” Cowie said.

In her role as vice-president, Cowie said she had a lot of work to do leading up to the provincial competition.

“I can’t express how excited I am to be on-court again with my team,” Cowie said ahead of the tournament.

William Andrusyk played for Team Fury and is another player selected for Team Canada’s mixed foam squad for Austria 2024. Andrusyk has been involved in competitive dodgeball for years, adding that the sport has helped him find strong social connections.

Dodgeball “gives me an important feeling of community and mutual respect amongst players, amongst friends,” Andrusyk said.

The competitive dodgeball scene has provided many athletes with close friendships, but for Andrusyk, it has given him a little more. Andrusyk and Gray are engaged to marry, having met through competitive dodgeball in Ottawa.

“I guess I got my future wife out of dodgeball, as well,” Andrusyk said.