The most intense sport I’ve ever played.

I grew up in a family of sports enthusiasts. Everyone had their thing. My sister and brother played soccer, my step-brothers did baseball and basketball, my step-sister did dance and cheerleading and my younger brother did basketball. Everyone loved to play sports, watch sports, discuss sports.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I KNOW I have a different Dad than the rest of my family, I would swear I am adopted. Because if you’ve spoken with me for a couple minutes or seen me in the elevator, than you know that I don’t really care for sports. I am not coordinated and I get embarrassed easily when I miss or really screw it up for a team.

The sports my parents put me in, usually just ended up benching me for most of the season because I was the kid who ruined the game by missing an important shot or accidentally kicking the ball into the wrong goal or picking flowers for my mom from the soccer field. All true stories. So needless to say, I don’t like sports. But that all changed yesterday.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to play the greatest sport ever invented by man. Whirlyball. You see, we’re doing some work for Nintendo on the upcoming Mario Kart 8 game and to kick off the event in fun fashion we decided to get dressed up in Mario paraphernalia (I even shaved to sport only a Mario mustache) and play Whirlyball.

Now Whirlyball (for those who don’t know) is a cross between bumper cars, lacrosse and basketball. You ride around in bumper cars and scoop this little ball up and try and toss it against this board for a point. It sounds like something I would hate but what I loved about it is that most everyone sucked at it. So it really leveled the playing field.

Now since this was my first time really enjoying a sport, I decided to take you guys, court level. To go inside my head for one ten minute match of Whirlyball. Enjoy:

I entered the Whirlyball court and was immediately faced with a decision: Red or Black. You see the teams were divided by the color of car and it was discovered very early on that Black was a team that would win but typically at the cost of their soul. The team leader of Black was a man named Howard. Howard was probably the only person in this entire place who knew a lick about playing this game and he took it serious. There was no screwing around on Howard’s team.

Red on the other hand was full of goofballs and goobers. These were the guys who would probably not score the entire match. They were just out there to have fun and drive around and maybe try and score if the mood was right. Frankly for someone with my skill set this team seemed like the more logical place to be.

But that’s the magic of Whirlyball. Unless you were Howard the way you played didn’t matter. What defined you in this game was the color of your kart. I had even been Black one time before and while we won, I didn’t like the man I’d become. Brash, cold, uncaring; wanting nothing but the destruction of those around me. That was a load I couldn’t shoulder right now.

So I sat in Red #32. If I was being honest with himself, Red made more sense for my outfit. I was dressed head-to-toe in Mario red and blue. This outfit just seemed to pop in the red karts. Immediately I felt very good about this game and it would seem that fate agreed with me because sitting in the bottom of the kart was the ball! I would get to kick off the match. If only my parents could be here to see me now.

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But the reality was, this wasn’t going to be the match for me. I would fail three noticeable times. The first almost immediately.

The lady up above in the booth begin shouting incoherently through the microphone and suddenly there was a buzzer and the match had begun. Everyone on my team was shouting my name for me to pass the ball. This was the most popular I had ever been and I wanted to take it all in but life had other plans. Nate Steele, that two-timing snake, knocked my racket towards my face knocking my glasses off and causing the ball to fly off behind me. A typical Black team move and a first failure for me.

With that everyone was hustling. As per normal, Howard was calling the team shots with his crony Olivier working as his assistant. They were shouting orders and under their guidance the Black team was like a well oiled machine. But the Red team was not going to sit this one out today. We had Blake.

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Blake was probably the closest to a Howard the Red team had ever had. He was able to get in there and provide some form of leadership to our wandering gang of idiots. Blake shouted, “Scott behind you!” Scott Fleming darted for the ball but had no way of knowing that would put him directly on the path of Phoebe Alvarez. Phoebe was the only girl on the court and she definitely played fierce to make sure we all knew not to take her lightly. She immediately rammed into Scott causing him to go flying into the wall. In typical Scott fashion he threw up his hands in disgust with what had taken place. Besides myself, Scott was the most unlucky person on the team when it came to the art of Whirlyballing. Like me, he was a Red kart man in his blood.

Phoebe scooped the ball up and immediately launched it towards the black goal where Chad Williamson tended to hang out. As I said, the Black team played like a real team and Chad knew the best place to spend his time was cruising in circles waiting for the ball near the goal. Phoebe launched it right next to him and like a champ Chad scooped it up and put a point on the board.

Red team wasn’t mentally ready to be losing so quickly. But Whirlyball isn’t a game for emotions. It’s a game for the tough, the strong and the determined. So we immediately regained focus and shouldered on. The match went back and forth for a bit between the usual players of Howard, Olivier, Blake and James. Oh that’s right, I forgot to mention James.

James didn’t have the skill of a Howard, he wasn’t bad mind you, but he wasn’t playing on Howard’s level. What James did have was the vocal shoutings of a guy who played basketball in high school. Everything James shouted was so full of authority and confidence that I would follow him to the moon. It was because of this confidence that James became a top player.

At one point the ball came rolling to a corner and it was down to me to grab it. But coming to my left was Jesse, my partner at work. While at work Jesse and I work great together, like a fluid team but here on the court, in the madness of the game, everything was off limits. I slammed into the side of Jesse and we began reaching for the ball. Sadly the ball was out of reach for both of us and basically we looked like two doofuses trying to get the ball. I began backing up but that’s when Jesse used his biggest advantage: his height.

Jesse’s long arms and long torso allowed him to get in there and reach the ball as soon as I moved. Before I knew it the ball was gone. This was failure number two. I swore to myself that next time I got the ball I was going to travel towards our goal and score. I swore it on my children’s lives (this was a very intense moment).

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The match continued closer than usual. Under Blake’s leadership the Red team was able to score a couple times and when it came down to the final minutes, we were only a point behind. The ball whizzed by me and I had an open grab. I sailed to get it moving faster than I even thought possible. The ball was just out of reach when suddenly Dom, my boss came up from the left. We struck the wall at the same time and begin reaching and fighting for the ball.

Dom has been my boss for almost three years, I respect him and have been very grateful for everything he’s done but I would die before I let him take this ball from me. Suddenly among all the chaos Dom spoke and said, “If you want the ball, take it” and he backed away. That’s Dom for you. Even in this furious game, he still wanted to give me a chance. I wouldn’t let him down.

I spun around carrying the ball towards the goal, time was ticking down. If I could put this ball in there, I’d tie the game. It would be the greatest thing I’d ever do in my life (and I say that knowing I’ve fathered a child). As I tossed the ball I shouted, “This is what my whole life has been leading to!”

The ball went sailing and for a moment everything stopped. I’d like to think that everyone on both teams was rooting for me. The ball moved through the air like a graceful bird caught on a summer breeze. But unlike a bird, it didn’t land in it’s nest but instead sailed over the goal and into the wall behind it.

It was a terrible shot and to make matters worse Jeremy Adams slammed into my side. In that moment, I swear I could even hear Stella laughing somewhere in the distance. It was my moment, wasted. My missed shot allowed for Owen to scoop the ball and toss it down to Howard who of course scored and basically put a nail in the coffin for the Red team. Failure number three.

The buzzer went off and the girl mumbled into the microphone again. I stood slowly, sad and defeated. But as I looked around I realized something. I had never had the opportunity to take a game-tying shot before. That was the biggest rush I had ever experienced and I would never tell anyone that I peed a little bit from the excitement of it all. That was amazing. I wanted to play again.

This was Whirlyball. A game we played to celebrate our team and our work on Nintendo. It wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t screw it all up in some grand fashion and if I am being honest with myself, there is no group I would rather fail in front of than my work family.

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