Kickin’ it, Beaufort style

(Note: This story originally appeared in the Beaufort Gazette in July 2007).

By Will Martin

Ivey McClam and Worth Liipfert share a house divided. For several weeks, their normally tranquil relationship has been tested by a shared, competitive passion. Each Thursday, the two upwardly mobile 20-somethings have been joining about 80 of their contemporaries at Mets Field on Pigeon Point. Exchanging their professional attire for painfully bright T-shirts, the yuppie throngs divide into four teams, bearing one goal in mind: They want to kick some ball.

“I hadn’t played kickball since fourth or fifth grade,” said Justin Baker, marketing assistant for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s harder than you remember it being.”

The game of children has become the sport of women and men, and it has Beaufort in its tight, juvenile grasp.

“It’s just like softball, but our balls are bigger.”

South Carolina is home to seven kickball leagues, and Beaufort’s SC Seaside division is the county’s first venture into what has become a nationwide phenomenon. Touting itself as “the new American pastime,” the World Adult Kickball Association now boasts hundreds of U.S. leagues, the winners of which may compete in national tournaments for thousands of dollars in prize money.

Monetary reward offered little incentive to division co-founder McClam. Boredom, however, weighed heavily.

“There’s really not a lot for young people to do,” said McClam, chamber director of member services. “Beaufort County in general is marketed to retirees.”

Having moved from Columbia to Beaufort, McClam and boyfriend Liipfert were looking for some action, so when some Charlotte friends boasted of their kickball revelry, a fire was lit.

“About two weeks before the season, we had two people signed up, so we just called everybody we knew and begged them to play,” said Liipfert.

Seventy-seven phone calls later and the SC Seaside division was born.

The game is simple. It has all the trappings of baseball, except a kicker stands where one would normally find a batter, and the ball is rolled rather than pitched. Or in Liipfert’s words, “It’s just like softball, but our balls are bigger.”

Like all competition, kickball can turn intense.

“There are some people that are very confrontational,” said McClam.

Noting that one team insists on keeping team statistics, McClam rattled off a list of injuries born of such drivenness: Twisted ankles, cuts, strains and, most notably, two torn ACLs. Injuries aside, the requirements for athletic prowess in kickball are minimal, widening the sport’s appeal.

“It’s not the most athletic thing,” McClam said. “It’s just kickball; you’ve been doing it since you were 5.”

Designed for co-ed play and a broad array of talent, kickball welcomes the sprinter and sloth alike. In the end, it’s more about the gathering than the game. One of the national association’s mottos – “Join, Play, Party!” – bears true in Beaufort. After each game, most of the players travel down to Nippy’s Fish on West Street, where local musicians and good beer encourage a festive mood. Should this prove lacking, the division offers mid-season and postseason parties, complete with boiled shrimp and the occasional keg stand.

“It’s a great networking opportunity for young people in Beaufort,” said Lindsey Baxter, director of membership and marketing at Callawassie Island.

A budding kickball purist, Baxter doesn’t follow the crowd down to Nippy’s most weeks. Instead, she keeps to the field, fitting the mold of most kickballers: She just has fun.

Happy to just be reliving grade-school heroism, Baker echoes Baxter’s amiable approach: “Don’t kick butt, just kick ball.”

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