Seneca Valley School District is going giddy over gaga ball.
The game, which has been described by some as a “kinder, gentler version of dodgeball,” has become a big hit with students according to the physical education teachers Tyler Messica and Eric Grove.
“This is our first year playing gaga ball with the kids and they just love it,” says Messica, who teaches at Haine Middle School. “I follow a lot of PE teachers on social media and one of them posted about (gaga ball) so I researched it and tried it out here, and the kids have really taken to it.”
Believed to have originated in Israel and brought to the U.S. in the 1960s, gaga ball is played using a standard playground ball in a flat-walled pit typically shaped like an octagon or hexagon. Rather than throw the ball like in dodge ball, players use an open hand to hit the ball toward each other. A player who is hit by the ball, or who has their ball go airborne and caught, is eliminated and must leave the pit. The final person in the pit is declared the winner.
“One of the great things about the game is that the kids really get a workout and I don’t think they even realize it,” Messica says. “The games usually last about five to seven minutes and they are running the whole time. The kids are having fun and they’re getting exercise.”
While this is his first year teaching the activity, Grove is no stranger to gaga ball. The Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School teacher initially played the game four years ago while attending the Seneca Hills Bible Camp. Grove says the activity appeals to him because everyone can play and it’s safe. Unlike dodgeball there are no headshots and players can’t team up and target one individual.
“You use an open hand to hit the ball, and when the ball hits you it’s below the waist,” Grove says. “It’s definitely safer than dodgeball.”
“In dodgeball usually it’s the stronger kids that survive, and that can hurt the confidence of others,” Messica says. “Gaga ball really evens the playing field and I believe that’s why a lot more schools are turning to the game.”
Gaga ball isn’t just a game for elementary and middle school students. Several parents entered the gaga ball pit to play a game at Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School’s 60th anniversary celebration earlier this fall, Grove says.
“We had a large turnout of parents who wanted to play,” he says. “There was a huge line the entire day. I really like the creativity because all ages and all skill levels can play.”
Those that play at Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School do so in a pit created by former student Drew McCarron, who decided to make one for his alma mater as part of his Eagle Scout service project, Grove says.
“The kids were very excited to have their own pit,” he says. “It was awesome that Drew decided to do this for us.”
Grove says he is in the process of trying to secure donations from businesses in the community to purchase a second larger pit that would have space to accommodate more than two dozen players.
Messica says with the growing popularity of gaga ball, it wouldn’t surprise him if the district offers it as a club activity in the future. For now, the game is only played in PE class and at recess.
“When the kids find out we are playing gaga ball they just go crazy,” Messica says. “It’s definitely one of their favorite activities.”