IDAHO FALLS — A group of local teenagers are traveling to Utah next month to compete in a national spikeball tournament.
The competition is sponsored by the American Youth Spikers League, which has teams in Rexburg, Idaho Falls, Pocatello and other parts of the state. The national competition takes place June 10 and 11 in Salt Lake City.
Alex Hart is the league’s co-founder and coach of the Idaho Falls teams. He tells EastIdahoNews.com that cleatball, or roundnet as it’s officially known, has been a trend in Utah for years and he looks forward to competing with other teams across the country. .
“They’ve got a lot of kids playing in Utah,” Hart said. “We hope to see 20-30 teams there this year.”
Spike ball is a combination of volleyball and foursquare. Each team gets three hits. The object is to get the ball over a round net on the ground while the opposing team tries to keep it in the air. The ball is only allowed to touch the ground twice. Unlike volleyball, there are no “out of bounds”. The round is over once a mistake is made.
“You can make a mistake putting it in the rim, letting it bounce twice, or hitting it four times,” says Hart. “Everyone gets two serves like in racquetball.”
Spike ball was invented by Jeff Knurek in 1989, according to Standuppaddleboardworld.com. It was popular for several years but eventually died out. It was revived in 2008 when Chris Ruder acquired the brand and began marketing it.
The show “Shark Tank” brought the sport into the national spotlight in 2015.
“There have always been tournaments in college and they have pros playing this sport for a national title,” says Hart.
Reinvent the game
Hart was inspired to form a local league after playing in a professional tournament in Philadelphia last year. The first local season was last fall and it has since become one of the fastest growing sports in the country.
But the game Hart and his teams play is slightly different from the traditional spike ball.
“We’ve reinvented the way you play smash ball, which is (usually) not a team sport. It’s two against two. We recreated it so now there are… six players on the court at a time in three nets and you play six rounds of it,” Hart explains.
Players rotate from net to net and “whoever has the most kills at the end of the match wins the game”. Hart says his changes to the game have been a hit with players.
“One of the things that made me want to do that was playing time. I would go to (my son’s football game) and watch those kids sit on the bench. they’re not ‘the chosen one’ or if they haven’t chosen their sport yet, they’re not getting the benefits of (playing as much),” Hart says. “We’re probably the only sport in the world where you have to face everyone in the team before you can replace someone twice.”
That element of playtime is something that Hart says makes him so appealing to kids of all athletic abilities, and being able to provide that is what he finds most rewarding.
Over the past year he has traveled extensively trying to promote the sport in hopes that other leagues will be formed and that is how the national tournament in Utah was born.
“Idaho Falls is now gaining this reputation of being an elite (team) and it’s exciting,” Hart said. “If you’re from Idaho and playing spike ball tournaments now, let’s go.”
Hart and his team train at Tautphaus Park every Thursday evening from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. An adult league was formed last winter, so everyone is welcome to participate for free. Visit the website to find out more.