Kids at some Great Bend elementary schools can’t get enough of Gaga Ball, a new game being played at recess. Jefferson Elementary physical education teacher Dustin Klassen introduced the game, which is similar to dodge ball but played in its own octagonal rink, and now at least two other schools have added it.
“I was in my hometown of Hesston and saw something different out on their playground so I asked them about it,” Klassen said. “They told me the kids absolutely love it and are playing non-stop.”
What he saw was the playing field: an octagon that has 8-foot long walls about 30 inches tall. He learned that Gaga Ball is a kinder gentler version of dodge ball that’s normally played in a “pit.”
The game reportedly originated in Israel and became popular among Jewish camps in the 1970s. The word “Ga” means in Hebrew means hit or touch, so Ga-ga means hit-hit. Another origins story credits the game to a Maryland man named Steven Steinberg, who said he created it in 1975 when he was a summer camp counselor. He said the name came from baby talk, as in “goo-goo ga-ga.”
There are variations, but a round starts with everyone touching a wall and someone tossing a rubber playground ball (about 8.5 inches in diameter) into the center of the pit. Players can slap hit the ball but they can’t pick it up or kick it; in fact, if the ball hits a player below the knee, that person is out and leaves the pit.
At Jefferson School, when only two players are left they put a time limit on the game so that everyone can get back in for another round. A second ball can also be added to speed things up. Each game lasts about 5 minutes and players can’t wait to hop back in.
“It is a great way to get some exercise without having to be the most athletic kid,” Klassen said. The game has them dodging, running and jumping. “Every kid no matter how big or small can succeed. The kids at Jefferson would play all day every day if they could.”
Jefferson Principal Kip Wilson confirmed that. He said he’s gone by the playground after school and seen kids playing Gaga Ball as late as 8 p.m.
Wilson said Klassen provided the dimensions of the pit and the USD 428 maintenance and grounds department built it. At least two other schools, Riley and Park, have since added Gaga Ball pits to their playgrounds.