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THE WRITING ON (AND OFF) THE WALL GETTING A KICK OUT OF THIS OLD-SCHOOL GAME.

Byline: TOM HOFFARTH

Loudly, and with plenty of warning, they're taking over the local dusty softball and baseball diamonds and overgrown grass soccer fields, a swarm of 20- and 30-somethings with high-topped Converse All-Stars, funky-colored T-shirts, goofy team names and no real game faces.

Why? It's elementary.

Kickball, that old-school blacktop recess activity where the boys could be boys and girls could try to steal the ball to play four-square, isn't really making some sort of retro-chic comeback in the way that the dodgeball craze happened a year ago, following up on the Vince Vaughn-Ben Stiller movie.

These red-ball rebels have been making noise, mostly by word of mouth, for more than seven years. There's a national organization called the World Adult Kickball Association behind them that sports a slick Web site (www.worldkickball.com) and regular regional and national tournaments that funnel into Washington, D.C. Nationally, more than 15,000 play.

The thousands who've revived this on the East Coast have been treading onto Southern California public parks kicking and screaming, so much so they're having to bust out more leagues just to meet the demands.

New WAKA fall leagues are scheduled to start shortly in North Hollywood and Venice (and maybe even Hermosa Beach) to accommodate the couple hundred quasi-competitors who've been congregating at Hollywood's Poinsettia Park for the only real kickball action in town the past five years.

Open to any misfit 21 and older who has the $65 entry fee and with proof of health insurance, the Valley participants will now have regular Monday night games in the new Studio League at the North Hollywood Rec Center starting Aug. 1. Before that, there will be pickup games the next three Mondays for those who want to see what all the commotion is about.

Scott Jones, the Studio League's anointed president, moved to North Hollywood from Kansas City, Mo., to work at Warner Bros. in its promotions department a few years ago. The 27-year-old who grew up with Joe Montana and George Brett posters on his wall as a young'un was actually looking for a soccer league to join when a friend spotted the kickball craze.

``At the risk of sounding derogatory about other sports, everyone was trying to be too manly,'' Jones said about his decision to stick with kickball rather than pursue soccer, softball or basketball leagues. ``There's always some kind of altercation. Kickball is just more normal. There's not a lot of meatheads out there. It's a nice crowd to hang out with.

``Plus, the emphasis to show up at the bar after the game seems to be just as much as playing.''

Ah, so there's the hook. Every league has a designated bar for post-game gatherings. Each division has at least two parties, a mid-season shin-dig and an end-of-the-season blowout complete with awards ceremonies.

Those wacky WAKAs.

``I'm not sure if it's a Peter Pan-complex we all have, or just a reminder of the kind of fun we had as a kid,'' said 29-year-old Richard Manfredi, a USC journalism graduate who heads the Hollywood Division and tries to play three nights a week. ``But as a kid, we just never had the chance to go out to the bar after a game.''

Don't softball guys go get hammered after their battles, too?

``Softball just gets too competitive, way too intense,'' said Manfredi, who does public relations work for a Northridge-based music software company. ``They have practices. We show up, make friends, and go at it.''

The game, for those who don't remember, is like softball without bats, between 8 and 11 to a side (at least 4 of each sex) playing five-inning games. The ball is rolled or skipped up to the plate, and the strike zone is a foot on either side of home plate, and one foot high. As official rule 8.01 states: ``No bouncies.'' That's where a pitched ball doesn't touch the ground at least once or goes more than a foot off the ground before it reaches the plate.

Duh.

``In school all I ever did was kick grounders to third and hoped no one hit me,'' said Jones, who plays on a team called the Awesome Helicopter Ninjas. ``And then, you always thought it was good to kick the ball in the air, but now they get caught. That's a big difference. I'm tired of making other guys look like heroes by kicking line drives at them.''

Like in grade school, Jones says it's still not as easy to impress the girls.

``Especially when you wear socks like mine,'' said Jones, who remains single. ``They're black and orange striped that I stole from my old girlfriend. The girls think I'm funny for wearing them, but they're not quite as impressed.''

As long as he gets a kick out of `em.

CAPTION(S):

7 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Brian McWilliams kicks during a recent pickup game at twilight at the Oakwood Rec Center Park in Venice, where the World Adult Kickball Association will field its new ``Dogtown Division.'' Another new Valley team, called the Studio League, starts soon in North Hollywood.

(2) Jacob Sidney manages to show his pitching form with the traditional 14-inch red rubber ball during a game in Venice.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer

(3) Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers, with a 9-4 record and 2.45 ERA going into Saturday's start, was voted onto the AL All-Star team by his fellow players.

Jim Bryant/Associated Press

(4) LANCE ARMSTRONG

(5) NATE McMILLAN

(6) KELLY WUNSCH

(7) - Comedian Richard Lewis, on how perfect the name Mickey Mantle fit for the former New York Yankees superstar, during the HBO bio-documentary ``Mantle'' that begins airing Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Box:

SUNDAY PUNCH

- Tom Hoffarth

- Rich Hammond
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Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 10, 2005
Words:959
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